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A novel by Richard Adams about two dogs named Rowf and Snitter. The two narrowly escape from an animal testing lab and roam the English countryside with the help of a fox known only as "the tod" (a dialect word for "fox"). The facility, Animal Research, Scientific and Experimental, attempts to reclaim the dogs and spreads a rumour that the two harbour a dangerous bioweapon to assist in their capture, hence the title. It was made into an animated feature-length film in The Eighties a few of years after Richard Adams' other book Watership Down.

Known for being Darker and Grittier than the previous work, it is set in the gray and wintry fells of England's Lake District. The animated adaptation is an infamous Tear Jerker as well; the original print of the film was censored for wide release and is considered rare.

Emphasis is made of Rowf's Woobie status as an animal subjected to repeated drowning experiments, and Snitter's role as a Doom Magnet is emphasized in at least one scene of death and serious injury that is probably the emotional nadir of the story.

Tropes used in The Plague Dogs include:

  • Animal Testing
  • Animal Talk
  • Art Shift: Snitter's mental hallucinations are portrayed this way on film, and also in-story to suggest his limited eyesight
  • The Atoner: Digby Driver. A lot of what goes wrong for the dogs is his fault, but he later makes up for it by finding Snitter's owner and helping save the two dogs.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: The two dogs swim out to sea to escape their human pursuers.
  • Blatant Lies: In the film, while Rowf and Snitter are running from the humans, the tod offers to distract the humans so they can get away. He ends up getting killed in the process, and Rowf and Snitter are very aware of it, but assure each other that there's no way the humans got him, because he was too clever. They are both quite aware that this isn't true.
    • In the novel Snitter witnesses the tod's death much earlier, but as the two dogs grow hungrier and weaker (and Snitter's mind decomposes) they begin to talk as if he was still alive.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The movie ends with the two dogs swimming out to sea trying to reach an island. Just to increase your doubt in either direction further, the last shot is of an island, while the music for the credits is a song about dying and going to Heaven.
  • Break the Cutie: It happens over and over and it only gets worse as the plot progresses.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Snitter, due to multiple brain surgeries that removed the barrier between his conscious and subconscious.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Animal testing includes drowning, vivisection, etc.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: The tod is a literal example.
  • Deus Ex Machina: At the end of the novel both dogs are rescued by a boat that just happened to be hanging around -- a boat piloted by Sir Peter Scott and Ronald Lockley, no less.
    • The novel also pulls off the impressive trick of suggesting that the reader himself/herself talks the author into sparing them.
    • Which is partially true. The original manuscript of the book had an ending more in line with the movie with the dogs {{spoiler|swimming out to sea trying to reach an island that may or may not exist, and implying the dogs drowned. There was no boat or rescue, reprieve, or happy reunion with Snitters owner in the original ending.}} Richard Adams editor and others who read the original manuscript however protested, saying the ending was too depressing, causing Adams to rewrite and expand on/change the ending from what he originally intended.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina: The hunter who wants to adopt Snitter.
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Both subverted and played straight.
  • Doom Magnet: Snitter literally believes himself to be this, suggesting that they cannot kill him because if he dies all the humans would die, too.
  • Downer Ending: The Deus Ex Machina is not present in the film version and it's strongly implied that the two protagonists die by drowning.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Oh so very many. The tod is killed by hunters, both dogs are strongly implied to have drowned, a man is shot in the face with blood splattering everywhere, and a hunter is killed by a long fall and his corpse is eaten.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The animal testing laboratory is called Animal Research: Scientific and Experimental, or A.R.S.E.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: When the story starts it seems quite clear that the baddies are the whitecoats and the men with guns, while the goodies are those who show sympathy to the dogs. Later, as the characters become more developed, the "baddies" begin to appear more human, reasonable and even nice in their own way, while the "goodies" show signs of shallowness or hypocrisy. (See Humans Are Bastards.)
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the book, the tod is dead long before the dogs run for the sea, but in the film he sacrifices himself to give the dogs time to escape.
    • Snitter's master threw him out of the way of a lorry and was run over instead.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Played with. The "White coats" certainly qualify here, even to the point of being Cthulhu-esque, but most of the humans are three dimensional and are only after Rowf and Snitter because they killed sheep and eventually a man. Completely averted in the case of Snitter's idea of "Masters," whom he almost deifies.
    • At least one of the scientists, Stephen Powell, comes across as sensible. He later quits his job after his conscience can't take it anymore.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Probably the most infamous and depressing scene in the book and film.
  • Intellectual Animal
  • It Got Worse
  • Mood Whiplash: See Marvin, above.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Strongly implied.
  • No Name Given: The tod. When Snitter asks his name he gives a tangential answer: he doesn't even understand the question.
  • Not Quite Dead: In the novel, Snitter's owner.
  • Oop North: It's Grim Up North if you are a dog on the run.
  • Pet the Dog: The above-mentioned hunter who can't bring himself to shoot Snitter, and tries to literally pet him. It... doesn't go so well.
  • Punny Name: Several
    • Rowf: Canine onomatopoeia.
    • Snitter: Nervous noise a dog makes
    • Animal Research, Scientific and Experimental: A.R.S.E.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Snitter and Rowf view Humans as a dangerous cosmic force that have turned against them.
  • Revised Ending: In the original print of the book, the Deus Ex Machina fails to take place.
  • Serious Business: Geoffrey Westcott takes the fact that the dogs broke into his car to steal some food a bit too seriously, and goes on a one man crusade to try and hunt them down.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: At the research facility Rowf was forced to swim around in a tank of water until he couldn't swim anymore and drowns. He would then be taken out of the tank, revived and forced to repeat the whole process over again. The experience has understandably left him with a crippling fear of water.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Surprisingly literal.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Geoffrey Westcott. Although he appears in the film, his role as the man that falls off a cliff is taken by Ackland, a Bounty Hunter hired by Dr. Boycott to take out the dogs.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Tod.
  • Waif Prophet: Snitter is a bit of an Expy for Fiver.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Rowf's aversion to water.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Snitter's master's mother-in-law sells him to the animal testing lab, leaving Snitter to assume his master is dead.
  • Xenofiction: The dogs' limited intelligence is portrayed surprisingly realistically, although they are much more intelligent than the monstrous beasts of Watership Down.

The Film Adaptation provides examples of

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