I have to admit, when I go looking for celebrity scandals, “smuggling puppies” is not the first thing that I expect to see. Usually when someone famous runs afoul of the law, it involves something sordid, like cocaine stashed in a travel bag, doing something indiscreet in a public restroom, or avoiding taxes by stashing their money in offshore accounts. At the very least, I expect to find something as sinister as when Winona Ryder shoplifted $5,500 worth of goods from a Saks Fifth Avenue in 2001.
But for Amber Heard, dog smuggling is the charge that she’s going to face in an Australian court, and it’s more serious than it sounds. Heard could conceivably face up to 10 years in prison for bringing two Yorkshire Terriers owned by herself and husband Johnny Depp into the country without taking them through quarantine.
Up until now, the coverage has mostly focused on Johnny Depp, so one of the first questions to surface is, why is Heard facing jail time, but not her husband? The private plane that they flew the dogs in on belonged to Depp, after all, and the dogs are co-owned by Depp and Heard.
For now, the answer to that question remains unclear. According to the BBC, the prosecutor’s office has specifically refused to answer that question on the grounds that the case is ongoing.
In May, it did look like Depp might be the one facing charges, but the force of Australian law has fallen on his wife instead. She also faces a false documents charge, based on the information that she provided on an incoming passenger card. That charge carries a possible penalty of one year in prison and a fine of AU$102,000 (About $75,700).
While Heard and Depp’s violation of Australian customs laws doesn’t come off as desperate or sensational, it does reek of a couple of overprivileged celebrities who think that the rules don’t apply to them. When the story first hit the news, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce threatened to euthanize Pistol and Boo, which triggered an international backlash in favor of Depp and Heard.
But although Joyce’s first response to the situation was to grossly overreact, there’s a reason that dogs have to go through quarantine procedures when they enter a new country. Despite what people might think, it’s not just a thinly disguised way of keeping bureaucrats employed. Based on their history, Australia in particular has reason to be worried about animals and plants being brought in at random. When Europeans first hit the shores of Australia, they also brought rabbits with them. Because rabbits have no natural predators in Australia, they bred like — well, rabbits, and remain an invasive pest to this day. The plant known as Paterson’s Curse was brought over by settlers in the 1880s and instantly spread around the countryside, strangling native species. While Yorkshire Terriers aren’t likely to become invasive species in those ways, they can carry pathogens just like any other animal, no matter how adorable they are.
Joyce hasn’t been exactly adorable throughout the process. He’s often seemed to relish the publicity a bit, striking a tough-guy stance for the media. One of the first things he said was that Pistol and Boo needed to “bugger off,” or get euthanized, a move which hardly endeared him to dog lovers.
The Australian Broadcasting Company reports that at this point, Joyce is feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all the fuss over Depp and Heard’s dogs, but he does see a bright side to it: “Not that I planned it that way, but you couldn’t have bought the advertising that it got for Australia’s biosecurity processes,” he said.
I don’t particularly want to see either Depp or Heard go to jail for 10 years, but I do hope that the ordeal has taught them to be more responsible dog owners.
Read more news about dogs on Dogster: