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Australia Issues Death Threat to Johnny Depp's Dogs

The actor's Yorkshire Terriers Pistol and Boo pose a biosecurity risk to Australia after being "snuck in" on a private jet, says the government. They have 50 hours to get out or face the chop.

by Scott Mitchell
May 14 2015, 10:35am

Photo par Dan Steinberg/AP

The Australian government took to the airwaves on Thursday morning to warn the American actor Johnny Depp he had 50 hours to get his pet dogs out of the country or they would be euthanized.

The 51-year-old actor may have "been the sexiest man alive twice," said Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce at a press conference outside parliament house in Canberra, but his Yorkshire Terriers Boo and Pistol posed a biosecurity threat to the country and the government wouldn't hesitate to kill them.

Joyce said the dogs appeared to have been snuck into the country on Depp's private jet when the actor returned to the Gold Coast to continue production on the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They were not declared for quarantine at customs, a mortal sin in Australia which is one of the most isolated ecosystems in the world and has stringent quarantine laws.

The island is one of the only countries in the world free of rabies and several other animal-borne diseases, but 200 native Australian animals are under threat of extinction at present in one of the worst biodiversity crises in the world

"A gentleman known as John Christopher Depp, 51 years old, a.k.a. Jack Sparrow, he's decided to bring into our nation two dogs without actually getting the proper certification or the proper permits required. We found out he snuck them in because we saw them being taken to a poodle groomer," said Joyce. "Mr Depp either has to take his dogs back to California or we're going to have to euthanize them, he's now got about 50 hours left."

Joyce named several diseases that Australia's quarantine policy has been attempting to keep out of the country, that Depp's dogs could be carrying. They included leishmania, rabies, leptospirosis, and other parasites. "It's time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States," he concluded.

The countdown for Boo and Pistol is now on, with their execution slated for Saturday local time should they not leave the country.

The news immediately created waves all over the world, with an online petition to save the dogs reaching more than 5,000 signatures within hours, and Twitter users doing their best to make light of a dark situation.

#WarOnTerrier was one of the top ten trending topics on Twitter within 12 hours of Joyce issuing his threat.

Some users sided with the government.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton insisted the issue was a serious one. "If you have breaches of biosecurity, it can have big impacts," he said during an interview with 2GB Radio.

Australia's ABC news station said it understood government officials had visited the Gold Coast mansion that Depp is renting with fellow actor and wife Amber Heard, and gave them a three-day warning. The dogs were filmed from a helicopter — alive and well — inside the house.

The US Embassy in Canberra issued a statement on the case, advising that Australia had "very strict quarantine standards for other products, animals, and pets," and warned US citizens to exercise caution and to familiarize themselves with Australian law before entering the country.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 150 countries have endemic rabies infections. The organization estimates there are between 26,400 and 61,000 rabies deaths around the world each year.

Leishmaniasis, an infection caused by a parasite transmitted by sandflies, causes 1.3 million infections a year and 20,000 to 30,000 annual deaths. Neither disease is prevalent in the United States.

Related: One of the world's biggest extinction crises is being caused by Cats

The opposition Labor Party insisted Joyce was using the case to his political advantage, and sought to shift blame to government budget cuts for the illegal arrival of the two terriers.

"Instead of grandstanding before the media," opposition agriculture spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon said, "Barnaby Joyce should be answering the hard questions about the breach and what role his biosecurity funding cuts may have played."

But Joyce had insisted the actor cannot be afforded special treatment. "If you start letting movie stars [and their pets]... come into our nation, why don't we just break the laws for everybody," the minister said.

Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell

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