The Plague Dogs

The Plague Dogs

infobox Book |
name = The Plague Dogs
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover from 1977
author = Richard Adams
cover_artist = A Wainwright
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Fantasy novel
publisher = Allan Lane
release_date = 22 September 1977
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 496 pp (hardback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-7139-1055-0 (hardback edition)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Plague Dogs" is the third novel by Richard Adams, author of "Watership Down". It was first published in 1977, and features a few location maps drawn by the fellwalker and author Alfred Wainwright.

Plot introduction

This book tells of the escape of two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, from a government research station in the Lake District in England, where they had been horribly mistreated. They live on their own with help from a fox, or "tod" in his Geordie dialect.

Adams based the book's research station (ARSE) on the remote hill farm of [] Lawson Park, now run as an artist residency by contemporary art organisation Grizedale Arts.

Plot summary

After the dogs attack some sheep on the fells, they are described as ferocious man-eating monsters by a journalist named Digby Driver. A great dog hunt follows which is intensified with the fear that the dogs could be carriers of a dangerous bioweapon like bubonic plague. The research station is fictional. It is named ARSE = Animal Research, Surgical and Experimental.


*Rowf: A black mongrel with similarities to a labrador retriever, born in the laboratory where inhumane experiments were performed on him and his companion, Snitter. Snitter escapes with Rowf, only to find that living in the great outdoors is quite challenging. Rowf is usually a downtrodden fellow, quite old and cynical, since he has had a hard life and never met a decent human. Also, as a result of the experimentation, he has gained an abnormal fear of water. But toward the end of his travels he starts to believe in something more.
*Snitter: A black and white (white, chocolate, and tan in the film) fox terrier. Unlike his friend, Rowf, Snitter was once settled into a home. After he lost his master in a road accident with a truck, he was sold to the laboratory. The scientists in the lab have performed numerous brain surgeries on Snitter, merging his conscious and subconscious mind. This causes him to have nightmarish flashes and dreams at random times, whether he is asleep or awake. Frequently he hallucinates the sight of his master approaching, and turns round in joyful greeting, only to find there is no one there. Once he and Rowf escape the lab, Snitter is determined to find another home for him and his friend. Snitter is the most hopeful character in the book, and the most mysterious, since he can have several strange, but beautiful ramblings of future events and of past ones. As he and Rowf are driven far out to sea, he sees something: Freedom. At this point, the film ends; but in the book, the dogs are rescued by a small boat crewed by Ronald Lockley and Sir Peter Scott. They are returned to land where Snitter is reunited with his master, who it turns out was not in fact dead but merely hospitalised with concussion and a broken leg.
*The Tod: A fox encountered by Snitter and Rowf early in the story. He speaks not in the local dialect but in that of Upper Tyneside, having been born "far ahint th' Cross Fell". He forges an uneasy friendship with the dogs, teaching them hunting and survival skills in return for a share of the kill. The friendship is stronger with Snitter, who understands both the tod's speech and his mode of thought. Rowf, by contrast, "can't understand a word he says", distrusts his "sly, sneaking" ways, and considers that the tod is taking advantage of his strength to provide him with easy meat in return for advice which Rowf feels he would be better off without. For a while the trio survive reasonably comfortably, the dogs killing sheep and fowls under the tod's guidance, but eventually the dogs' indiscreet ways drive him away, which together with the onset of winter marks the start of a much tougher phase of the dogs' fight for survival. In the book, Rowf drives him away, and the Tod is rejoined by Snitter. The Tod tells Snitter to run and distracts a foxhound pack and is subsequently killed. In the film, he uses every trick he has to distract army dogs for long enough that Rowf and Snitter can escape. He is then cornered by three German Shepherd Dogs, one of which badly injures him, rendering him a limp and weakling. He tries to escape, and jumps over a wall, but five German Shepherds leap over with ease after him. The character's death is not explicitly depicted, although one of the soldiers holds up his body.
*Digby Driver: A newspaper reporter for the fictional "London Orator". He is an amoral, self-centred man, writing wildly sensationalist articles with only the sketchiest grounding in fact and using blackmail to extort background information about bioweapon research at ARSE. The media hysteria he creates causes panic among the local populace and eventually moves the government to deploy the army to exterminate the dogs. In the end, however, he redeems himself when he receives a letter from Snitter's hospitalised master and brings him from the hospital to the centre of the action in the nick of time to meet the boat returning the dogs to land and assert his legal claim as Snitter's owner, thus saving Snitter (and incidentally Rowf as well) from summary execution by the waiting soldiers.

In the film, Digby Driver is replaced by Lynn Driver, a television reporter.
*Dr. Boycott: A senior researcher at ARSE who was in charge of the experimental programme which involved Rowf. He is callous and unfeeling, with no sympathy for either the animals in his experiments or his subordinate, Stephen Powell. His inept handling of the situation arising from the dogs' escape serves both to antagonise the local farmers, who are losing sheep to the dogs, and to provide grist to Digby Driver's mill despite his efforts to do the opposite.
*Stephen Powell: Dr. Boycott's subordinate, somewhat nervous and fearful of his chief, and evidently possessed of sympathy for his experimental charges which he dares not express for fear of being regarded as an unsound scientist by Dr. Boycott. It appears that his original motivation for working in an area which he evidently finds uncomfortable was to help find a cure for the mysterious disease from which his daughter Stephanie is slowly dying, but he has ended up being assigned to totally unrelated research and his main motivation now is simply to maintain a stable home in an area where his daughter is happy (i.e., the Lake District). Eventually his conscience gets the better of him during a pointless sensory deprivation experiment on a monkey. He steals the monkey and takes it home, quits his job, and plans to get local employment as "a teacher or something". Early in the story he is given a lift by Digby Driver and, not realising that he is a reporter, chats freely about his work in response to Driver's questioning. The repercussions of this inadvertent leak are another factor in his decision to quit his job.
*Dr. Goodner: A researcher at ARSE carrying out secret bioweapon research for the Ministry of Defence. He is German by birth and was a "researcher" in Buchenwald during the Second World War, but has managed to conceal this information. Digby Driver finds out about Goodner's past through contacts at the "Orator" and uses the information to blackmail him into revealing details of his research, specifically that he was researching bubonic plague, which Driver uses as the foundation of his sensationalist scaremongering.
*Harry Tyson: The odd-job man at ARSE, in charge of feeding and cleaning the animals and general caretaking duties. It is his carelessness in neglecting to close Rowf's cage properly that allows the dogs to escape, but he successfully conceals his mistake by post-facto sabotaging the catch of the cage.
*Geoffrey Westcott: A local bank clerk who is something of a recluse, disdaining human relationships in favour of accumulating finely-crafted technological artefacts. While returning from a grocery shopping trip with his landlady in his Volvo P1800, he stops for toilet purposes and while both humans are out of the car the dogs suddenly appear, invade the car and devour all the shopping. His anger at the violation of his prized car leads him on a solitary one-man crusade to destroy the dogs, and he falls to his death from the top of Dow Crag while attempting a difficult shot at Rowf who he had spotted on the screes below. The dogs are by now starving, snowfall having removed the sheep from the fells and cut off their main food source, and they devour Westcott's body. The discovery of the mutilated corpse allows Digby Driver to whip up media hysteria to new heights. In the film, although Westcott appears, his role as the man who attempts to snipe the dogs and subsequently falls to his death is taken by a new character named Ackland, a bounty hunter hired to kill the dogs by Dr. Boycott.
*Alan Wood: Snitter's master. He is a gentle, kindly man, in late middle age, working as a solicitor. He is somewhat untidy in matters of housekeeping, which he deems unimportant, and seems to have little social life, but is devoted to Snitter. For most of the book Snitter believes him to be dead, killed in a road accident when saving Snitter from death after he ran out into the road. Snitter reminisces fondly and wistfully about his life with his master, gradually working up to the traumatic events of the accident, wracked by guilt because he believes himself responsible for his master's death. In fact, Wood survived the accident and is recovering slowly in hospital. He is told by his sister that Snitter has run off and cannot be found, and is horrified when he eventually sees a report in the "Orator" and realises the truth. He writes to Digby Driver, who takes him from the hospital to the scene of the action just in time to ensure a happy ending, asserting his legal claim as Snitter's owner and taking in Rowf as well.
*Annie Mossity: The sister of Snitter's master (as Snitter refers to Mrs. Anne Moss — a pun on animosity). She is an ugly and domineering woman, and it is implied that her husband ran off without the formalities of a divorce because he could not stand her any more. She is disdainful of her brother's easygoing, untidy ways and has hated Snitter since she first met him. To her falls the responsibility of looking after Snitter after Wood's road accident, which she discharges by selling him to ARSE, buying a fur coat with the proceeds, and lying to Alan to cover her misdeeds. She is interviewed by Digby Driver midway through the book, and is successful in mendaciously confirming his false assumption that her brother is dead.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Like its predecessor "Watership Down", Martin Rosen directed and adapted "The Plague Dogs" into an animated feature film, which was released in 1982. In a stark contrast to the book, where the dogs find sanctuary from the hunters and are cleared of being plague carriers, the film takes a harder tone with an often misenterpreted ending where the dogs are driven out to open water because of an imagined island.


*cite book | title=The Plague Dogs | last=Adams | first=Richard | authorlink=Richard Adams (author) | publisher=Allan Lane | location=London | id=ISBN 0-7139-1055-0 | date=1977

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