The Plague Dogs (1982) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Two dogs escape from a laboratory and are hunted as possible carriers of the bubonic plague.

  • An animated adaptation of Richard Adams' novel, about a pair of dogs (Snitter and Rowf) who escape from a research laboratory and try to survive in the wild with the help of a cunning fox (The Tod). The lab director tries to keep the escape quiet, but as an increasing number of sheep are found killed, word leaks out, together with rumors that the dogs might be plague carriers.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A black dog (Christopher Benjamin) almost drowns, but at the last second he is rescued at some sort of scientific laboratory. The scenery outside that facility is grim and desolate. Dogs are kept onto cages, and when one of them dies, they are shoved aside with pales. Tyson (Warren Mitchell) is a hand workers who treats animals roughly. He throws Rowf to one side of the cage and some food carelessly on the other. Cage 732, the cage of the almost-drowned dog is left open by the careless feeder. The black dog is very weak, but another dog howls like a wolf and that makes Rowf mad. Snitter (John Hurt) sneaks into Rowlfs's cage. Rowf eats his food and he leaves with Snitter, who wears a kind of green cap.

    The laboratory is a scary place, even for a human. They have monkeys, rabbits, mice... imprisoned, unable to move. Regardless of what they are trying to research, it looks that Dr. W. Goodner likes torturing animals. A monkey makes noise, scaring the escaping dogs; they throw a glass mouse cage, and the mice immediately run away. They soon find a lock door, but they manage to get into the incinerator, which they consider a death place. Snitter is the first to jump, and Rowf feels that he has not other option than to go behind him. There is only ash and bones there. They rest and sleep there for a while. Snitter dreams of an owner in the city; that person died to push him out of a lorry's way. A female voice accuses Snitter of having killed the person. Snitter wakes up startled and he has trouble waking Rowf up. He can feel that fresh air comes from another opening, so they go through that hole on the wall when the doctor throws a dead dog to the incinerator and is about to turn it on. Suspense because Rowf has got stuck, but he and Snitter escape in the last second. They are free now.

    They stare at the stars. Snitter stares at the burnt black dead landscape, and wonders how the men destroyed the city and all the masters. He still thinks that there have to be masters somewhere, although Rowf doubts it. Rowf is hungry, but Snitter still thinks about the landscape and the stillness of the night.

    They reach a village. Snitter wants to be adopted, but Rowlf splashes the rubbish bin contents all over the place, so the man throws a stone at him. Snitter tells him that they have to behave properly if they want to get anything from masters. Their mouths water at the sight of a supermarket, but they see a butcher sharpening a knife, and they run away. Snitter tries to attack the white lines of a road. The driver of the car who has just run over Snitter stops to pick him up, but Rowf prevents it. Snitter thought they were beloved masters, but Rowl tells him that their green coats showed that they wanted to put Snitter back onto the prison/laboratory.

    Dr. Boycott (Nigel Hawthorne) and a laboratory assistant (Brian Stirner) think that the two dogs which are constantly running after the village sheep must be the dogs which escaped from the lab. Snitter sees a "master", a shepherd who uses sheep dogs; Snitter thinks that this master will take care of them pretty soon. They try to behave like the sheep dogs, but they become trampled by the flock of sheep and the sheep dogs () accuse them of spoiling their good work, as they make all the sheep run away. Snitter wants to prove humans that he can be a good dog, after all, he didn't kill his master on purpose. Rowf and Snitter wander around the land. Rowf is more aggressive, although the terrified Snitter confuses some molds with threatening bear-like silhouettes.

    October 18 - Day 4

    Blood spilling over the rocks and into a river: the two friends killed a sheep. Rowlf got quite a beating anyway, and he wants to give up. Snitter tells him that he can't stay there in the open. Snitter travels on his own until he finds an abandoned mine. Snitter has faith that, in that secret place, they will be safe and nobody will be able to find them, although Rowf tells him that there's no hope in that god-forsaken place. So the two dogs start killing sheep; there is a stream nearby where they can drink to their content. Rowf can feel that humans are a danger to them still. Rowf is a good hunter.

    Once, they see a fox who tells them that they have no chance without him. Snitter thinks that The Tod (James Bolam) can help them survive, but Rowf looks at him suspiciously, as he can be a vulgar thief. Tod tells them that if they keep on killing sheep that way, people will catch them soon.

    October 26 - Day 12

    Snitter scratches himself and finally gets rid of the green cap, probably contaminated with some disease; Snitter bites the cap. Meanwhile, Rowf and Tod run after a sheep. Snitter push the sheep down a cliff, killing it; he almost falls behind it, but Tod and Rowf tell him he has done good. Rowf inquires about Snitter's head, and he licks the wound.

    Ducks and ducklings are swimming in a pong and fighting over some green algae. Tod catches one. The three of them kills many hens

    At the Crown bar, the villagers comment on the intelligent wild creatures who are killing all their poultry. They feel powerless to stop them. Tod still thinks that the sheep are still too much of a risk - humans will get really mad at them if they keep of killing their sheep. Tod decides to leave them, and Rowlf thinks it's just as well.

    November 1 - Day 18

    Snitter still believes in the master who will take care after them. The scientists raid the area with hunting dogs. The Tod comes back asking for the remains of the food; in exchange, he tells them about the dogs which are all over the place. Tod takes the two friends deep onto the mine. Bats fly by when humans reach the entrance. The three allies leave through a broken hole on the wall. They cross a stream and they let a herd of reindeer be.

    Meanwhile, the scientists are arguing about the dogs. Williamson (John Franklyn-Robbins) calls the research facility inquiring if they have lost any dogs, but the person who picks up the phone refuses to give a straight answer. The monkeys are still imprisoned and suffering. Rowf has learned to hunt like a wild animal, and the Tod laughs about it.

    November 8 - Day 25

    They sleep at the ruins of a derelict village home. The hunt against them continues; one of the hunters spots Snitter through his binoculars and calls at him as though he were his dog. Snitter is a bit reluctant, but he's dreamed so much about having a master... He wags his tail and tries to show his happiness licking his "master's" face, but by accident, his leg gets stuck in the trigger of his shotgun, killing him. Snitter runs away.

    Rowf is also spotted, but he manages to run away.

    November 9 - Day 26

    Rowf and the Tod look for Snitter, as Rowf doesn't want to leave him behind. A thunderstorm breaks.

    Robert Boycott (Malcolm Terris) phones the experimental station. Finally, Rowf finds Snitter, who thinks that he's destroyed every possibility they had of a happy ending. They are at an abandoned haystack. Snitter says that not even death will finish their pain, while Rowf tells him that he'll kill before being killed.

    November 15 - Day 32

    A journalist says that ecologists will oppose the hunt if they hear about it; however, they want to have the Army involved. Snitter and Rowf eat rubbish. Two female voices comment that they seem to like to eat it. One of the ladies tries to scare them away with a broom. Snitter feels depressed once again. The lady catches Snitter and puts him inside a warehouse - he thinks that he's in a place of torture once again, but then, immediately starts daydreaming about him and his master by the fireplace. Rowf runs away and finds the Tod. They try to rescue Snitter, who doesnt want to leave, as he can imagine himself in a happy place. The woman has called the police. Snitter bites a man who tries to catch him.

    A Pekignese (Judy Geeson) is peeing at an oil station all over the place, and she tries to call her master's attention, but the human is so stupid that doesn't bother looking down. The Pekignese gets away running after some wild birds. The owner, Lynn Driver (Penelope Lee) hears that the dog which had suffered a brain operation is thought to be dead - he was experimented upon in a mind-confusing surgery, and that's why Snitter seems to be unable to distinguish the real world from his dreams. Lynn and his companion, her cameraman and editor (Bill Maynard) think that it's a pity that now, they will never know if the surgery was successful. They drive into the Coniston Animal Research (Scientific & Experimental) facility carelessly.

    A hunter arrives at the derelict house the three friends have been sleeping in, but they are not there. At Coniston, they are more worried about their reputation than anything else. The villagers create a state of panic as Lynn Driver speaks about the news. Snitter is constantly scratching his head - he is dreaming about an island; Rowf licks the wound, but Tod doesn't believe that. Tod insists that they have to stay ahead of humans all the time. They try to kill a deer and its offspring; Tod mocks them when the deer wins the fight with his antlers.

    Tod catches a fish and a frog: For Rowf and Snitter, that is something much more difficult.

    November 21 - Day 38

    They approach a home with lighted windows in the night. Tod has drunk all the milk, and Rowf is angry, because they are really hungry. They are so desperate, that Rowf decides to enter the home to eat, although Snitter thinks that this is a bad idea. They take away a hen. The farmer's wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) convinces her husband not to shoot the dogs, in case they pass the bubonic plague onto them. The farmer pushes the body of the dead hen onto Rowf's mouths.

    It's increasingly cold - snow is everywhere now. The dogs are bony and hungry all the time.

    November 23 - Day 40

    Now, it looks that they are in the North Pole, although they are supposed to be still in the Lake District. They sleep rough, covered by the remains of a wall.

    On the radio, Jeffrey Westook retells how he was attacked by the dogs -- or rather his car. Lynn Driver keeps on reporting from the Lake District. A farmer sees his own sheep dog talking to the two dogs. The sheep dog says that humans are afraid of the sickness within the two dogs.

    A hunter keeps after the two friends, and The Tod keeps after the hunter. The dogs are more and more tired. The hunter prepares to shoot the two exhausted dogs - a vulture has begun to fly in circles above them. The Tod distracts the hunter, so that he falls from a hill - his shot only succeeds in breaking Rowf's green collar. Now, the army and the police use even helicopters to follow the tracks of the animals: they find the eaten dead body of the hunter.

    They walk alongside a stream. Rowf says that he owes his life to the Tod.

    Dr Boycott can't deny that the green collar is one of theirs. The Major (Patrick Stewart) wants him to accept what happened. He says that the researchers didn't want to admit that the dogs may have infected with the bubonic plague; now, they are trying to kill all animals. The Minister of Defense sends two companies to catch the dogs.

    Rowf gets clumsy because of the weakness. Sheep keep on munching and chewing. They use dogs, helicopters, lorries, shotguns... The Tod thinks that if they manage to cross the valley unseen, they will be free forever... but it may be too late for Rowf and Snitter, they are so weak. The Tod opens the way and comes back for them. They have no other option than try to run for it. A helicopter sees them but loses them from sight soon.

    The dogs enter a train which has stopped for maintenance while the Tod lures the hunting dogs away. However, he gets hurt. When the train starts to move, Snitter and Rowf prefer to think that the Tod has managed to run away somehow, although we can see that he was killed.

    The train arrives at Ravenglass. They, the dogs can smell the sea. A helicopter spots them outside a tea bar. They run like crazy until they reach the shore. They stare at the beach, the sand, and they sit to rest for a while. Meanwhile, at the facility, the monkey keeps on hearing human voices.

    Snitter starts swimming towards the island of his dreams. Rowf hesitates, but the approaching soldiers push him to swim.

    Shots are heard. There is a thick fog which hides the helicopter and the two dogs.

    Rowf and Snitter swim and swim; they keep going and going within the thick fog. Snitter looks to be the more exhausted, and it's Rowf who encourages him saying "Stay with me", deep into the thick fog.

    CAPTION: Martin Rosen's production of The Plague Dogs and end credits. The summits of three mountains in an island can be seen against the horizon.

    ---written by KrystelClaire

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