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Published: Friday, 7/25/2014

Conditions at Van Wert shelter prompt dog warden suspension


VAN WERT, Ohio — The Van Wert County dog warden is facing a criminal investigation for conditions at the county animal shelter.

Rich Strunkenberg was placed on paid administrative leave following a county resident’s complaint on Sunday.

“The conditions we found were not what I felt to be acceptable, and I started an investigation immediately,” Sheriff Thomas Riggenbach said Thursday.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Sheriff Riggenbach declined to describe the nature of the conditions inside or how long the problem may have persisted. He also declined to describe the type and number of animals affected or how they were affected.

Mr. Strunkenberg, the only employee at the shelter, is also the county’s sole humane agent and is responsible for investigating reports of animal cruelty and neglect.

With the warden on leave, the shelter has been 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, individuals who find stray animals or want to surrender their pets are being directed to the Humane Society of Allen County in Lima.

In August, 2013, the county commissioners placed the dog warden’s office under the sheriff’s supervision to address complaints about the office’s responsiveness. The warden remains an employee under the commissioners’ umbrella.

The arrangement “was going very well, and those concerns were alleviated,” said Todd Wolfrum, chairman of the board of commissioners.

Neither the commissioners nor the sheriff’s office had received any previous complaints regarding conditions at the shelter. Sheriff Riggenbach and Mr. Wolfrum noted the shelter should have been visited more often by their respective offices to ensure operations remained satisfactory.

“You have to trust your employees to do their job,” Mr. Wolfrum 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.

Mr. Wolfrum said the county is 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.”

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.

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