A mink appears from under an automobile in Van Wert County this week. (Photo/Sam Shriver - Times-Bulletin)

VAN WERT COUNTY — It has been two days since 40,000 mink were released in Van Wert County and Northwest Ohio has gone mink-crazy. Social media is flooded with mink stories, mink memes and sightings of mink on Hoaglin Road, which is where Lion Mink Farm is located. The farm is seven miles north of Van Wert and roughly five miles north of Van Wert Walmart.

County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach’s office responded to the farm at 6:27 a.m. on Tuesday morning to investigate a break-in and vandalism to one of the buildings. Within a few hours, Ohio State Highway Patrol Post 81 in Van Wert had released warnings about road hazards on US-127, which is less than a mile away from the farm.

Times Bulletin reporter Sam Shriver was at the farm shortly afterward. Several armed locals were shooting the animals, and Shriver took pictures of the animals, noting graffiti on one of the buildings. The graffiti was too small to read from the road, but suspecting it was a deliberate act the Times Bulletin contacted Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an animal-rights group that is not above breaking the law to make a point. Many would call them domestic terrorists.

ALF responded to the Times Bulletin, saying they were “very pleased” about the incident, but had yet to receive confirmation that the lawbreaker was a member of their group or someone sympathetic to their goals. Since then WLIO-TV from Lima has been able to access the graffiti, which reads: “ALF We’ll be back” — which confirms the link between the actions of the person responsible and the organization, or at least their philosophy.

The group has claimed responsibility for two other ‘liberations’ this month: Tonn’s Mink Farm, 3270 Pigeon Run Road SW, in Massillon, Ohio, operated by Dennis and Wanda Tonn and Pipkorn in Powers, Michigan, run by Thomas and Steve Pipkorn.

Sheriff Riggenbach’s Office, in a news release at 3:30 p.m. the day of the crime, claims that the majority of the minks had been killed or reclaimed by the farm. An estimated 10,000 remained at large by Tuesday night. “These minks,” it said, “are considered domesticated animals/livestock. Domesticated mink generally will not survive in the wild because they lack natural survival skills.”

This is false, claims the ALF: “Despite even generations in captivity, it has been shown scientifically that mink remain genetically wild, and studies with radio-collared mink demonstrate clearly the animals are capable of survival in the wild. No, they won’t starve or freeze to death. Seriously FALSE!”

Tuesday’s break-in is not the first time Lion Farm has been vandalized. In September 2013, someone broke in and released 150-200 mink.

That person may be Joseph Budddenberg, an animal-rights activist who claims responsibility for the 2013 incident. In a Nov. 16 posting on Facebook, he stated the following: “Largest mink liberation in U.S. history last night, from Lion Farms in Van Wert, Ohio. I visited the farm in 2013 and liberated several hundred mink. Thrilled to see someone do a much better job.”

Buddenberg, 38 has a criminal record. In 2016 he pleaded guilty to violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006 and served nearly two years in prison.

Individuals with questions about trapping or hunting mink should contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resource in Findlay at 1-800-945-3543.