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The Plague Dogs

The Plague Dogs

4.6 28
by Richard Adams

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"Thousands and thousands of people will love this book!"
A lyrical, engrossing tale, by the author of WATERSHIP DOWN, Richard Adams creates a lyrical and engrossing tale, a remarkable journey into the hearts and minds of two canine heroes, Snitter and Rowf, fugitives from the horrors of an animal research center who escape into the


"Thousands and thousands of people will love this book!"
A lyrical, engrossing tale, by the author of WATERSHIP DOWN, Richard Adams creates a lyrical and engrossing tale, a remarkable journey into the hearts and minds of two canine heroes, Snitter and Rowf, fugitives from the horrors of an animal research center who escape into the isolation--and terror--of the wilderness.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Gripping. . . . A compelling tale of emotional force and high suspense.” —The Wall Street Journal 

“Adams takes us to places where no author author has taken us.” —The Washington Post

“Engrossing. . . . Bears the abundant mark of sheer genius.” —The Plain Dealer
“Better and more powerful than Watership Down.” —Providence Journal

“Marvelous. . . . An excellent drama.” —Newsweek

“Excellent.” —New York Daily News

“Adams writes brilliantly about animals. . . . When these dogs are on the move, they compel us to follow, trotting along the narrative path on all the legs we have.” —Saturday Review

“The genuine and moving feeling for animals that dominated Watership Down emerges here in intense dramatic form. Adams engenders such compassion, such desperate, urgent sympathy for ‘the plague dogs,’ that the reader yearns for a happy ending.” —Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
Adams's third novel, published in 1977, is a rewarding but long and difficult listen. Two tortured dogs, Snitter and Rowf, manage to escape from Animal Research, Scientific and Experimental (ARSE), and cause mayhem throughout England's Lake District, surviving in the rugged and hostile yet human-controlled environment. The work is excellently read by Ralph Cosham, who adds several British local dialects—some difficult to understand—to his interpretations of human and animal characters. Overall, this is a witty tale of adventure and longing that suffers somewhat from viscerally brutal descriptions of torture and the lingering effects of vivisection (brain surgery). Along with showing disdain for animal research, Adams also heaps scorn on British politics, governmental obstructionism, bureaucracy, the tabloid press, and at least some British women. Strange poetry and animal "songs" also show up. Recommended with reservations; strictly for adults!—Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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8 MB

Read an Excerpt

Fit 1
Friday the 15th October

The water in the metal tank slopped sideways and a treacly ripple ran along the edge, reached the corner and died away. Under the electric lights the broken surface was faceted as a cracked mirror, a watery harlequin’s coat of tilting planes and lozenges in movement, one moment dull as stone and the next glittering like scalpels. Here and there, where during the past two hours the water had been fouled, gilded streaks of urine and floating, spawn-like bubbles of saliva rocked more turgidly, in a way suggestive—if anyone present had been receptive to such suggestion—of an illusion that this was not water, but perhaps some thicker fluid, such as those concoctions of jam and stale beer which are hung up in glass jars to drown wasps, or the dark puddles splashed through by hooves and gum-boots on the concrete floors of Lakeland cattle sheds.

Mr. Powell, his note-pad ready in hand, leant across the flanged and overhanging edge of the tank, wiped his glasses on his sleeve and looked down the two or three feet to the contents below.

“I think it’s packing in, chief,” he said. “Oh, no, wait a jiffy.” He paused, drew back the cuff of his white coat to avoid another, though weak, splash and then bent over the water once more. “No, I was right first time—it is going. D’you want it out now?”

“When it definitely sinks and stops moving,” answered Dr. Boycott, without looking up from the papers on the table. Although there was in the room no draught or air movement whatever, he had placed the two graphs and the log sheet on top of one another and was using the heavy stop-watch as a paperweight to ensure that they remained where he intended them to remain. “I thought I’d made it clear the other day,” he added, in a level, polite tone, “what the precise moment of removal should be.”

“But you don’t want it to drown, do you?” asked Mr. Powell, a shade of anxiety creeping into his voice. “If it—”

“No!” interjected Dr. Boycott quickly, as though to check him before he could say more. “It’s nothing to do with want,” he went on after a moment. “It’s not intended to drown—not this time anyway; and I think probably not the next time either—depending on results, of course.”

There were further sounds of splashing from inside the tank, but faint, like metallic echoes, rather as though a ghost were trying, but failing, to come down and trouble the waters (and indeed, as far as the occupant was concerned, any sort of miracle, being unscientific, was entirely out of the question). Then a choking, bubbling sound was followed by silence, in which the rasping call of a carrion crow came clearly from the fell outside.

Mr. Powell stood up, walked across the concrete floor and took down a shepherd’s crook which was hanging on a peg. Sitting down once more on the edge of the tank, he began unthinkingly to tap with the butt of the crook the rhythm of a current popular song.

“Er—please, Stephen,” said Dr. Boycott, with a faint smile.

“Oh, sorry.”

The large mongrel dog in the tank was continuing to struggle with its front paws, but so feebly now that its body, from neck to rump, hung almost vertically in the water. The spaniel-like ears were outspread, floating on either side of the head like wings, but the eyes were submerged and only the black, delicately lyrated nose broke the surface. As Mr. Powell watched, this too went under, rose again for an instant and then sank. The body, foreshortened by refraction as it descended, seemed to move sideways from its former floating position, finally appearing on the bottom of the tank as an almost flattened mass and disturbing round its sides, as it settled, little clouds of dirty silt. Dr. Boycott clicked the stop-watch. Mr. Powell, looking quickly back to see whether he had noticed the silt (for his chief was particular about the cleanliness of equipment), made a mental note to insist to Tyson, the caretaker and head-keeper, that the tank should be emptied and cleaned tomorrow. Then, allowing for the refraction with the skill of a certain amount of practice, he plunged in the crook, engaged the dog’s collar and began to drag it to the surface. After a moment, however, he faltered, dropped the crook and stood up, wincing, while the body subsided once more to the floor of the tank.

“Christ, it’s heavy,” he said. “Oh, no, chief, I don’t mean it’s any heavier than usual, of course, only I pulled a muscle in my wrist last night and it’s been giving me a spot of gyppo. Never mind, never say die, here goes.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dr. Boycott. “Let me help you. I wouldn’t want you to suffer avoidably.”

Together they pulled on the crook, raised the heavy, pelt-sodden body head-first, broke the surface tension with a concerted heave and laid the inert dog on a foam-rubber mattress beside the tank. Here it resembled an enormous, drowned fly—very black, with a compressed shape something like that of a raindrop; and smaller than life, on account of a kind of collapse of the limbs and other excrescences into the central mass of the trunk. Mr. Powell began resuscitation; and after a little the dog vomited water and commenced to gasp, though its eyes remained closed.

“Right, that’ll do,” said Dr. Boycott briskly. “Now the usual tests, please, Stephen—pulse, blood sample, body temperature, reflexes—the various things we’ve been working on—and then plot the graphs. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes. I’m just going over to the Christiaan Barnard block to learn what I can about this afternoon’s brain surgery work. And please don’t smoke while I’m gone,” he added, mildly but firmly. “You’ll appreciate that that could have an effect on results.”

“All right to put its muzzle on, chief?” asked Mr. Powell. “Only this one, seven-three-two, ’s been known to be a right sod at times and it might come round enough to start in on me—sudden-like, you know.”

“Yes, there’s no objection to that,” replied Dr. Boycott, picking up the stop-watch.

“And the time, chief?” enquired Mr. Powell in a rather sycophantic tone, as though the time were likely to be something to Dr. Boycott’s personal credit.

“Two hours, twenty minutes, fifty-three and two fifths seconds,” answered Dr. Boycott. “Without looking at the papers, I think that’s about six and a half minutes longer than Wednesday’s test and about twelve minutes longer than the test before that. It’s rather remarkable how regular the increase appears to be. At this rate the graph will work out as a straight incline, although obviously we must reach a diminution somewhere. There must come a point where the additional endurance induced by the dog’s expectation of removal is counterbalanced by the limits of its physical capacity.”

He paused for a moment and then said, “Now, there’s another thing I’d like you to see to, please. I forgot to mention it this morning, but Cambridge are anxious for us to go ahead at once with the social deprivation experiment. We have a monkey set aside for that, haven’t we?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty certain we have,” replied Mr. Powell.

“I thought you told me we definitely had?” Dr. Boycott’s voice was a shade sharper.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Mr. Powell hastily. “We have.”

“Good. Well, it can go into the cylinder this evening. Now you’re sure that that cylinder excludes all light?”

“Yep. No light, restricted movement, adequate ventilation, wire mesh floor, faeces and urine fall through. It’s all checked.”

“Right, well, start it off, keep it under twice daily observation and, of course, mark the particulars up in a log. The total number of days should be kept up to date day by day, on a slate beside the cylinder. That’s a matter of courtesy to the Director. He’ll probably want to see it.”
“Where’s it to be kept, chief?” asked Mr. Powell.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s somewhere where you can readily keep an eye on it,” answered Dr. Boycott. “I suggest, near where you normally work, as long as it’s not anywhere near any other animals. There should be silence, as far as possible, and no organic smells, of course. That’s part of the deprivation, you understand.”

“How about the balance-cupboard in Lab. 4, chief?” asked Mr. Powell. “Plenty of space in there at the moment and quiet as the grave.”

“Yes, that’ll do,” said Dr. Boycott. “Don’t forget to tell Tyson about feeding, and keep me informed how it goes on. We’ll aim at—well, say—er—forty-five days.”

“Is that the lot, chief?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Boycott, with his hand on the door. “But since it seems necessary to mention it, you’d better see that this tank’s cleaned out. There’s silt on the bottom which shouldn’t be there.”

It was only after a considerable administrative and political battle that the site for Animal Research, Surgical and Experimental (A.R.S.E.), had been approved at Lawson Park, a former fell farm on the east side of Coniston Water. As a Departmental project the scheme had, of course, attracted deemed planning permission, but following Circular 100 consultation both the County Council and the Lakeland National Park Planning Board had objected to it so strongly that the responsible Under Secretary at the Department of the Environment (having, no doubt, a vivid mental picture of himself in the chair at any confrontation discussions that might be arranged to try to resolve the matter in Whitehall) had taken very little time to decide that in all the circumstances a public local inquiry would be the most appropriate course. The inquiry had lasted for two weeks and at various times during the proceedings the Inspector (who in his private hours indulged a taste for seventeenth-century English history) had found himself wishing that, like that Mr. Bradshaw who presided at the so-called trial of King Charles I, he had been provided with a bullet-proof hat. The deputy county clerk had cross-examined the Ministry experts with brilliant penetration on the precise extent of the urgency and need to site yet another Government project in a national park. The Secretary of the Countryside Commission, subpoenaed by the Planning Board, had been virtually compelled to give evidence against the Department into which he was hoping to be promoted to Under Secretary. The Council for the Protection of Rural England had greatly assisted the case in favour of the project by testifying with passionate emotion that nobody ought to be allowed to build anything anywhere any more. A Mr. Finward, a retired merchant naval officer, who occupied a cottage on the fell not far from the site, had threatened the Inspector with bodily injury unless he undertook to report against the proposal. And a Mr. Prancebody, who testified amongst other things that he had discovered the truth of the British Israelite theory while exploring the Derbyshire caves, had read in evidence most of a sixty-three-page submission, before the long-suffering Inspector had ruled it to be irrelevant and inadmissible and Mr. Prancebody, violently objecting, had been somewhat eponymously removed by the police. There was, in fact, scarcely a dull moment throughout the proceedings. Of particular interest had been the evidence of the R.S.P.C.A., who were emphatic that they favoured the scheme, on the grounds that the experiments and surgery would redound to the benefit of animals in general.

After the inquiry the Inspector, pressed by the Deputy Secretary of the Department to complete his publishable report as quickly as possible (regardless of whatever length of time he might need to make a good job of it), had recommended against planning approval for the site at Lawson Park and consequently against the compulsory purchase order on the property. The Secretary of State, the Right Hon. William Harbottle (known to his Departmental civil servants as “Hot Bottle Bill” on account of his chronically cold feet), had succeeded in getting the matter up to Cabinet Committee, following which a decision to approve against the Inspector’s recommendation had been traded with the Home Secretary and the Minister of Labour, sub rosa, for agreement to a new open prison in Worcestershire, the head of the Chief Alkali Inspector on a charger and the tail of a young lady named Miss Mandy Pryce-Morgan, who was currently dispensing her favours to certain of the Front Bench.

Upon the announcement of the Secretary of State’s decision, public reaction had been generally adverse. Under fire, Hot Bottle Bill had stood his ground like a good ’un, manfully ensuring that the Parliamentary attacks were invariably answered by one of his junior colleagues, Mr. Basil Forbes (otherwise known as Errol the Peril, on account of his unpredictable imprudence). Eventually brought to bay by Mr. Bernard Bugwash, Q.C., the Member for Lakeland Central, he had, on the night, brilliantly contrived to be unavoidably absent and Errol the Peril had spoken for six minutes flat. The next morning a much better stick with which to beat the Government had appeared in the form of the report of the Sablon Committee, which recommended that more public money ought to be spent on medical research. Since the Government, keen to reduce public expenditure, were reluctant to accept this recommendation, the Opposition had naturally supported it: and since support for Sablon was virtually incompatible with any further attack on the Lawson Park decision, it was generally conceded that Hot Bottle Bill had contrived to survive yet another cliff-hanging instalment of his career. Lawson Park passed into Government hands; and the celebrated firm of architects, Sir Conham Goode, Son and Howe, were commissioned to design the buildings.

It was generally agreed that these blended very well into their surroundings—the open hillside and oak copses, the darker patches of pine and larch, the dry stone walls, small green fields and knife-bright, cloud-reflecting lake below. Sir Conham had retained the old farmhouse and outbuildings, converting them into a luncheon room, common room and offices for the resident staff. Local stone and slate had been used to face and roof the laboratories, the Christiaan Barnard surgical wing and the stables, while for the livestock block Lord Plynlimmon, the well-known photographer and aviary expert, had been co-opted to design a single, large building, comprising under one roof more than twenty various sheds and rooms equipped with cages. The establishment had been opened on midsummer day, in pouring Lakeland rain, by Baroness Hilary Blunt, the former all-time high in Permanent Secretaries, and the flow of letters to The Times had trickled, faltered and finally ceased.

“And now,” said the newly appointed Director to Dr. Boycott, as the first consignments of dogs, guinea-pigs, rats and rabbits came rolling up the smooth, steeply gradiented tarmac in the station’s three distinctively painted blue vans, “now let’s hope we’ll be left in peace to get on with some useful work. There’s been a lot too much emotion spent on this place so far, and not enough scientific detachment.”

Meet the Author

Richard Adams is the author of many bestselling novels, including Watership Down (1974), Shardik (1976), The Plague Dogs (1978), The Girl in a Swing (1980), Maia (1985), and Traveller (1988), as well as several works of nonfiction, including his autobiographical The Day Gone By (1991). The winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Award for Children’s Literature, he currently lives in Hampshire, England.

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Plague Dogs 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though the movie brings out the best in the book, the novel shows the poetic mind of Adams. It will leave you addicted to its words, and the tears you shed are unavoidable. This book is sadly neglected by critics. It should be a classic novel, next to its predecessor, Watership Down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so good! I loved the dogs! I'd liked reading The Tod's dialouge. It really makes you stop and think, 'What have we done to our world?' This book can make you cry, cheer, or want kick the wall next to you. I highly suggest the movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
an awesome and grand novel, including the horridness of resurch centers and the pain and suffering that they lay upon animals. This novel makes you want to cheer the characters on, and makes you really think about what people really do to animals in the labs. (Definately not for children!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was searching online and somehow stumbled upon this site that told about the video format of this book. But hey, I wanted to read the book first so I did--I had no idea what was coming. This book was really good, but please don't read it if you don't like disturbing stories, cause there are quite a few disturbing moments. Like the part when Snitter follows the girl terrier--- I am not saying anymore. Anyway, I got the video format of this book too (which is disturbing also), but good. I think that the book and movie each show us the pain of losing a loved one, the triumph of feeling free, and the sadness when you realize it wasn't all you ever wanted. CLEARLY WE MUST ALL TRY AND STOP ANIMAL RESEARCH!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story about the suffering of animals at the hands of humans, this book is filled with subtle humour (the name of the research center is "ARSE"!) and brilliant, lovable characters (Snitter is especially charming). The dialogue is astounding, especially the things Snitter says. You won't regret reading this!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was excellent. It took a while to get into but I was very glad that I took the trouble to. I don't think I have cried so much over a book before. I think the worst thing is that all the experiments in the book are real and have been done. Read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book for it took me away from how I view the world and gave me a dog's perspective in return. I found my self rooting for the dogs instead of the humans and wanting for them a safe home where they would have a true master. A wonderful book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was also a cartoon video movie that was pretty disturbing. Adams has done a great job of bringing to light a relatively unknown aspect to our roles as consumers and how products and services become available through animal test subjects. For example, on material safety data sheets that accompany chemicals and chemical products, there is toxicity information called 'LD50' and 'TLV',respectively. LD50 stands for Lethal Dose 50%, where a group of test animals is subjected to varying amounts of the chemical in question until such time as 50 % of the test group dies. This then becomes a statistic for use in boundaries of safe use for humans. TLV, Threshold Limit Value, stands for gaseous or vapor exposure of a chemical to a group of test animals and the determination at what concentration such exposure becomes lethal to that chemical. Such toxicity testing is a requirement of both OSHA and EPA (toxic substances control act) regulations. And so it becomes obvious that large amounts of animals are killed for our benefit in all manner of products, from household cleaners to highly volatile chemicals used in polymer chemistry and beyond.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book that I have read by Richard Adams, and I loved it. The Plague Dogs is a tale based on true facts and events, surrounding the escape of two canine heroes from a research lab. Neither dogs has ever been alone in the world, and now they are left to fend for themselves against some of the earth's strongest creatures, man. This book is also very unique, in that the reader sees the world through the eyes of Snitter and Rowf, the two escapees. The Plague Dogs is a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is another Richard Adams work of art. If you like dogs you'll probably like this book very much. I would have given this book 5 stars but it has some slow points in the story, you have to just stick with it. It is a fun and entertaining read though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book had me rooting for the animals, not the humans. It makes you stop and think how really 'savage' mankind can be and how, just maybe, the animals might be the ones with gentle souls. Parts of the story might make you want to put it back on the shelf, but don't give up on it, you will love it!
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mayabella More than 1 year ago
it is a cool book with action
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