The Australian Office Taipei, the de facto embassy of Australia, is facing a hairy public relations problem named Benji.
Benji is a 10-year-old mongrel that had a debilitating stroke earlier this year and was taken to a local veterinarian, Yang Dong-sheng (楊東盛). According to the dog’s owner, Representative Kevin Magee of the Australian Office Taipei, Yang had advised euthanization.
“Our family came to the difficult decision to have Benji humanely euthan[i]zed to save her needless indignity and suffering. We did so on the advice of the family vet, and in consultation with Benji’s previous owners,” said Magee in a formal statement released yesterday.
Unbeknownst to Magee, Yang accepted payment for euthanization but did not euthanize the dog. Instead, Yang continued to treat Benji at his own expense. Within a few weeks, the dog had recovered enough to bound out of Yang’s home and into the net of a Beitou-based dog-catcher.
“We trusted the vet and were shocked to learn that Benji had been found wandering on the street. Thankfully, she was taken to the animal shelter. Benji has now returned to our home,” said Magee, who filed a lawsuit against Yang for fraud on Thursday.
Since then, the case has triggered public outcry. “At the Yangming clinic there is a dog without front legs, A-bao, and a dog without back legs, Ah-ji-ah — Dr. Yang rescued both and has adopted them. He is a really good veterinarian and the fact that he is being sued is infuriating,” posted a woman surnamed Lu to the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper Liberty Times, where the story was first carried.
Animal rescuer Sean McCormack, another of Yang’s veterinary clients, is promoting a phone campaign against the Australian Office.
“The diplomat may think he has a legal right to sue Dr. Yang for some kind of breach of contract, but to threaten one of Taiwan’s most compassionate vets for saving a dog’s life instead of killing him was a very unwise and undiplomatic move. He should demonstrate true Australian character and make amends by releasing Benji to Dr. Yang’s care immediately,” McCormack said.
Yang stressed yesterday to the Taipei Times that he did not advise euthanization.
“When the woman brought her in, this dog couldn’t stand up. After blood work and other procedures I diagnosed the dog with a stroke,” said Yang. “Because it was only a stroke, I told the woman that the possibility for recovery is high. In most cases, these cases can be cured,” Yang said.
“She said that she would go home and discuss it ‘with them.’ I didn’t know who ‘they’ were,” Yang added.
The veterinarian, who filed his testimony yesterday at Wenlin Police Station (文林派出所), said he had believed the woman was the dog’s owner. He never interacted with Magee or other members of the family, Yang said.
“To be honest, when she came in, I did not know she was [the Magees’] maid … I could not tell from her appearance that she was their maid, and she did not tell me she was their maid … When she brought it over, of course I thought she was the owner,” said Yang.
According to Yang, the woman understood that he would continue to treat the dog.
“Later she brought the dog back and said that the decision is to euthanize. I said, ‘We haven’t come to that bridge yet.’ I told her I would continue trying to treat the dog, but would collect a bill for the medical care so far, the euthanizing fee and the cremation fee [NT$8,500 total], because it’s possible that the dog will still die,” said Yang.
“I very clearly told her that the dog will continue to be treated. The woman was thankful and she cried — literally, I saw tears. I found out later that she had been the primary caretaker for the dog,” said Yang.
AUSTRALIAN OFFICE RESPONDS
Earlier this month, Yang received a call from a staffer surnamed Liu at the Australian Office Taipei. “I didn’t know why she was contacting me. Then during our conversation I discovered that Benji belongs to someone at the Australian Office,” Yang said.
According to Yang, the staffer said Benji is one of two dogs adopted by a former Australian representative. When the former chief left on assignment to China, his replacement, Magee, inherited the dogs.
Yang later received a call from Magee himself, who requested a refund for the NT$8,500 paid for euthanization and other services, as well as a formal apology. Yang refused, saying that NT$8,500 is less than the expenses incurred for Benji’s full course of treatment. “We argued violently and he said he would take it to the police,” said Yang.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Australian office said that the case is a private matter involving the family of a staff member and that the office would not be offering comment.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also emphasized the apolitical nature of the case. “This is a personal matter between Australia’s representative in Taiwan and another individual. It does not impact Australia’s relationship with Taiwan,” said a spokesperson in Barton, Australia.