Richard Strunkenburg sits, watching his attorney speak at his sentencing hearing Tuesday morning in Van Wert County Court of Common Pleas. Strunkenburg pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from mistreatment of animals at the county shelter while he was dog warden. (DHI Media/Ed Gebert)
Richard Strunkenburg sits, watching his attorney speak at his sentencing hearing Tuesday morning in Van Wert County Court of Common Pleas. Strunkenburg pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from mistreatment of animals at the county shelter while he was dog warden. (DHI Media/Ed Gebert)
BY ED GEBERT

DHI Media Editor

egebert@timesbulletin.com



VAN WERT -- The case against former Van Wert County Dog Warden Richard Strunkenburg has finally concluded. On Tuesday morning Retired Judge Charles Steele sentenced Strunkenburg to 90 days in jail with work release privileges followed by 90 days of electronically monitored house arrest, another 30 days of jail and 200 hours of community service, and the payment of court costs as part of three years of community control.



On Jan. 2, Strunkenburg, 38, pleaded guilty to two counts of prohibitions concerning companion animals, each a felony of the fifth degree. Facing sentencing for the charges, Strunkenburg and his attorney insisted that as dog warden he was overworked and was not offered any assistance.



"It just got to be too much for him, declared Strunkenburg's attorney, William Kluge. "It is an ongoing 24/7 process. That's one thing that nobody ever understood; nobody from the Sheriff's Department, the gentlemen who interviewed him about what happened there, the Sheriff himself, no one was out there to offer any assistance, to offer any supervision, to do anything to help Rich perform his job. He is only one man, he can only be in one place at one time. You can't be there all the time."



"I repeatedly asked for help through the commissioners and the Humane Society was offering county and city, they had to wait to hire somebody, and they just couldn't do it," argued Strunkenburg himself.



In pronouncing sentence, Retired Judge Charles D. Steele seemed to indicate Strunkenburg did not petition anyone for more permanent help. He said, "Mr. Strunkenburg, it's clear you were overwhelmed by the job. It appears there were probably other factors that could have been done to try to bring this to the attention of the public, politicians, or the Humane Society, or any of the people concerned with animal welfare and there's nothing in the presentence investigation that indicates that happened.



Prosecuting attorney Joseph R. Burkhard summarized the case from his vantage point after the hearing, "It's just a very difficult and sad situation. It just shows if you take a responsibility like this person did, you have to fulfill it, and he failed to do that."



On July 20, 2014 the Van Wert County Sheriff's Office was called to investigate a complain over conditions at the animal shelter on Bonnewitz Ave. As a result of the investigation results, the Van Wert County Commissioners fired Strunkenburg, citing inefficiency, incompetence, malfeasance, gross neglect of duty, failure to maintain adequate food and water, clean the cage and kennel area, failure to secure dead animals, and failure to supply adequate care and attention to the animals.



The grand jury indicted Strunkenburg on four felony counts of prohibitions concerning companion animals. In a plea deal, Strunkenburg pleaded guilty to two of the four charges, and sentencing was set.



At Tuesday's hearing, Kluge continued to talk about the difficulties and many duties of his client's former job.



"He spent 12 years as the dog warden, and his responsibilities were many and varied," Kluge stated. "He served in that job for 12 years... veterinary assistance was ... it was not non-existent, but it was minimal... He kept asking for help; he would ask for help, he would ask for someone to be hired consistent... He only got one week of vacation in 12 years...There were no volunteers that he knew of... This is not a one-man job."



For his part, Strunkenburg wanted to clarify one thing,"I did not starve any animals," he declared. "The animals that died there were on a schedule to be picked up on Monday. We didn't have a freezer, so that's why they were laying out... One animal in particular was 15 years old and had cancer, was brought in that day and died that night, and the other two animals had parvo... I feel real bad for what happened.I know there were things I could have probably done a little better... It was overwhelming."



Burkhard made clear what he related of the investigation, "The animals that were found that day when the sheriff went out to the shelter, they were in cages, they did not have water, they did not have food. Inexcusable. Totally inexcusable," he stated... The defendant failed to live up to the standards of someone who has that responsibility."



Judge Steele remarked about the investigation report, "There was one part about cats in a cage that was turned against the wall that had died and were decomposing, and there were other conditions like that."



A 12-month prison sentence was deferred pending Strunkenburg's successful completion of community control. Due to his clean previous record, Strunkenburg was not eligible for prison time at his sentencing.



One other hearing held in Van Wert County Court of Common Pleas Tuesday saw Ernie Teman, 40, Delphos, change his plea to guilty to a negotiated plea of misdemeanor theft. Two other theft charges were dismissed for this plea. Sentencing for Teman will be set at a future date.