VAN WERT — Van Wert County Dog Warden Rich Strunkenberg was placed on paid administrative leave this week pending a criminal investigation into conditions at the county animal shelter.
Sheriff Thomas Riggenbach said the department received a complaint Sunday from a member of the public and he and one of the department‘s sergeants promptly visited the shelter.
“The conditions we found were not what I felt to be acceptable and I started an investigation immediately,” he said.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Sheriff Riggenbach declined to describe the nature of the conditions inside, how long there might have been a problem, the type or number of animals affected, or how they were impacted.
Mr. Strunkenberg, the only employee at the shelter, was placed on leave effective Monday. The warden is also the county‘s sole humane agent, responsible for investigating complaints of possible animal cruelty and neglect.
With Mr. Strunkenberg on leave, the warden‘s office is operating in a limited capacity this week. The sheriff temporarily assigned a road sergeant to the shelter to take care of tasks there and “provide some services as we can to the public.”
“We’re not currently taking animals at this point as we work toward getting some things done at the shelter,” Sheriff Riggenbach said.
Instead, he is directing individuals who are looking to bring in stray animals or surrender their pets to the Humane Society of Allen County in Lima.
In August 2013, the county commissioners placed the dog warden’s office under the supervision of the sheriff to address complaints regarding the office‘s responsiveness to the public. The warden remains an employee under the commissioners’ umbrella.
“The sheriff agreed to put him under his supervision,” Todd Wolfrum, commissioners chairman, said. “It was going very well and those concerns were alleviated.”
Neither the commissioners nor the sheriff‘s department had received any previous complaints regarding conditions at the shelter. Sheriff Riggenbach admitted he had not visited the shelter to check on things there as regularly as he should have.
“It was not as much as we needed to be,” he said. “We’re having discussions daily of things we’re going to be doing differently as we continue to move forward.”
Mr. Wolfrum said the commissioners had not made regular visits to the shelter either.
“You have to trust your employees to do their job,” he said. “You can’t manage everything every employee does. [Increased oversight] is something we’ll be looking at doing in the future.”
Sheriff Riggenbach said he expects the dog warden‘s office to be back to full operations next week. He does not have an estimated timeline for the completion of the investigation.
“We want to make sure we take all the time needed to gather the facts,” he said.
Mr. Wolfrum said the county is actively discussing what the next steps should be.
“You learn by dealing with things when they happen,” he said. “Of course we’re going to look at procedures at how to make sure this situation doesn't happen again.”