VAN WERT — After the recent situation involving the Van Wert County Dog Warden and the Humane Shelter on Bonnewitz Ave., the Van Wert County Commissioners met Friday to, as Commissioner Todd Wolfrum put it, “to get some input on how to go forward.” Van Wert County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach, representatives of the Van Wert County Humane Society, and a few other interested citizens sat down with the commissioners to look ahead at the future for the dog warden position.

“I think the three parties who are signatory to wherever this program goes are at the table,” Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger began. “I guess we are interested in finding out what everyone is thinking, the direction we’d like to see it go, and maybe addressing some of the obvious shortcomings of the situation that we’re still reeling from.”

That situation didn’t need a lot of rehashing, although, since everyone was fresh on the details. Former Dog Warden Rich Strunkenburg was fired by the commissioners at the end of July, after being placed on administrative leave after a July 20 complaint was filed with the Sheriff’s Office. The commissioners took action based on animals not being fed and watered, dead animals not disposed of, and pens and animals at the shelter not being cleaned.

Strunkenburg had been supervised for nearly one year by the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office. Commissioner Stan Owens noted that Riggenbach had voluntarily taken on the responsibility to clear up the complaints Strunkenburg had not been responding to calls.

“He did us a favor by taking this over,” Owens stated. “He didn’t have to do that. And he eradicated a lot of problems for us.”

Owens informed those at the meeting there had been no complaints filed about the dog warden not responding once that position was placed under the authority of the Sheriff’s Office. The facilities, though, were not inspected, and no one else seemed to have access to the shelter. Jon Etzler of the Van Wert Humane Society admitted he had no key to the facility and no one with that organization seemed to have one.

People volunteering to the dog warden to help at the shelter were reportedly turned away, and the doors to the situation inside the shelter remained closed to even those wanting to adopt dogs.

Those volunteers are likely to be part of the solution at the Humane Society Shelter. The program still needs to be designed, although Riggenbach has gathered information from Allen County and other counties about effective shelter volunteer programs. The Humane Society representatives promised to get their entire group together to discuss their involvement in such a program. The major question will be whether that group or someone else should head up the coordination of the volunteers.

As for the dog warden position itself, Owens noted his preference that the person in this position be a deputy who will be able to handle other law enforcement issues if needed, as well. Riggenbach agreed, noting he has a deputy who has been assigned to the shelter and animal control issues since the investigation began. He stated Dep. Randy Averesch has been doing a great job and seems to have a real calling for the work. Already, he is taking names and contact information for potential volunteers at the shelter.

If such a move is made, the commissioners noted they would likely need to help with budgetary issues, as an additional deputy may need to be hired to pick up some of the work due to time taken away with animal control issues.

Although no concrete decisions were made on Friday, a general direction was established, and the three major parties agreed to work together to build a program that will serve not just the animals, but the general public as well.

Persons wanting to become a part of the Van Wert County Humane Society should contact Jon Etzler (419) 605-6360 or for more information. Anyone interested in serving as a volunteer at the shelter should contact the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office at (419) 238-3866 or sign up at the shelter.