Millions of At-Risk Dogs Thank Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

05/15/2015 03:07 pm ET | Updated May 15, 2016

Dear Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: You've airlifted your two Yorkies back to their American homeland because, as Australia's Agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce warned you in no uncertain words, if you didn't arrange for them to "bugger off," he'd order them seized and euthanized. You understood, albeit a bit late, that Australia's laws about importing dogs are very strict and that in violating them, you risked fast-tracking Pistol and Boo over the Rainbow Bridge.

Make no mistake: the Australians weren't bluffing. They are very proud that Australia is free of the deadly rabies virus, and they have worked hard to keep it that way. To refresh your memory, here is a link to what that means in terms of bringing a dog into their territory - and as it makes clear, even dogs rigorously screened in the U.S. must spend a minimum of ten days in quarantine.

The UK only modified its stringent regulations about dogs entering in 2012, in deference to EU standards. Back in 1968, dog-loving actors Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Richard Burton, opted not to sneak their two Pekinese and two Yorkshire terriers into London while Burton filmed Where Eagles Dare near London. Instead, they rented the 1,200 foot Bolivian luxury yacht Beatriz where Cuthbert, George, Oh Fi and E'en So could tough it out while waiting for periodic visits from Elizabeth and Richard, whose primary residence was a hotel suite.

Don't think that the English authorities trusted the famous couple not to sneak the dogs into London anyway. A Port of London policeman was assigned to make bi-hourly checks to confirm that the dogs were still on board. Fortunately for all concerned, they were.

The cost for avoiding but not evading the UK's strict regulations was not cheap. The Beatriz cost $2,400 a week for two months, the equivalent today of $16,187.72. For the Taylor-Burton team, this astronomical sum was a price well worth paying to ensure the safety as well as the proximity of their four dogs.

But this triumph of glamorous entitled film stars over heavy-footed authorities all but obliterates something bleaker: that throughout the world, infected dogs are the carriers of the almost always fatal rabies disease. As they succumb to it, crazed and dying, they bite humans, and those humans, too, will die a horrible death.

Seasoned travelers know that as a rule of thumb, the easier it is to legally transport dogs into a country, the likelier it is that that country has an elevated rate of canine rabies. That's why, if only they could speak, those dogs would thank Johnny and Amber for calling attention to their plight, no matter in how roundabout a way!

Unlike Australia and Antarctica, other continents are afflicted with rabies, with Asia and Africa the hardest hit. Several animals are carriers, but homeless dogs are a primary conduit for the virus. The majority of the 55,000 people who die each year from rabies, about forty percent of them children less than fifteen years of age, have been bitten by unvaccinated and usually free-ranging dogs.

Because of rabies and the fear that it will spread, an estimated twenty million dogs - 38 dogs every minute - are killed every year in jurisdictions that rely on mass culls, usually in the form of massacres, as the way to stamp out the rabies virus. But massacres don't work. Vaccinations do. If at least 70 percent of a dog population is vaccinated, the rabies virus will die out.

That's why Australia requires all arriving dogs to be vaccinated and then blood tested to ensure the vaccination provided adequate rabies anti-body levels. It's a tightly scheduled regimen, and anyone traveling to Australia with their dogs has to begin it six months earlier, in their home country. By failing to do that, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard offered the world's dog-loving media the opportunity to speak out for all the dogs who aren't blessed with caring human families. That includes the millions of homeless dogs who will die because they have not been vaccinated, a few of whom will become infected and sow terror and panic in officials who will retaliate against all dogs and kill as many as they can.