SYDNEY - Johnny Depp's pet dogs Pistol and Boo were expected to fly out of Australia on Friday and escape threats to put them down, after a complex and often comical quarantine wrangle.
But Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who had warned the dogs could be destroyed within hours, said the threat had not entirely disappeared if Depp is unable to get the terriers home to America.
"I'm informed that Pistol and Boo are preparing to fly on a private jet back to the United States which is the best news that I've got," Joyce said.
"Obviously there's an investigation as to how they came out into Australia.
"Mr Depp decided that he'd step around our nation's laws," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The actor, who is in Queensland state to film "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales", faces a formal interview with quarantine officers as part of investigations into how the Yorkshire terriers were allegedly smuggled in.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph said Depp and his actress-model wife Amber Heard, who have made no public comments on the issue, told the agriculture department they would fly out with Boo and Pistol on Friday night.
However, Joyce also voiced fears the United States might not let the terriers back in.
He said he was "seriously worried" they might not have the right permits to return home and could be left "stateless".
"The question is if he breached our laws, then did he follow the correct laws in the US?" Joyce said.
"My worry is will the US let them back in? If not ... will they have anywhere to go?"
And that, he said, could still lead to them being put down, adding, "Obviously my preference is not to destroy these two dogs."