Though the power of this contemporary canine escape saga is muzzled by whimsy, sentimentality, and overkill, Adams' talking dogs should run better than his mythic bear (Shardik) and almost as well as his communing rabbits (Watership Down). After all, who could fail to sympathize with neurotic terrier Snitter and impulsive mongrel Rowf who've been mind-tortured for months at the hideously professional Animal Research Centre in England's Lake District? And who could fail to root for them as they nose and paw their way to freedom and face a double threat to survival--the unnourishing raw countryside and their human pursuers? ""We'll be wild animals; and we'll be free,"" they say, and, aided by a no-name ""tod"" (a fox who plays the heavy-dialect artful dodger role), they learn how to raid farmyards and avoid humans, though Snitter (who long ago had a tender master) persists in believing that man and dog were meant to romp together. Then, thanks to the rumor-mongering of an irresponsible journalist (""ARE RUNAWAY DOGS CARRYING BUBONIC PLAGUE?""), the tempo of the hunt quickens, with both vigilante and government hit-men closing in on the starved, wounded dogs. But worry not. There's a tacked-on happy ending (a Dickensian reunion between Shitter and master, a deus ex machina rescue ship)--just one of Adams' self-indulgences. His villains--research scientists, politicians, newshounds too often come up cartoons; his narration swings from topnotch to fey (""Now leave we to speak of Digby Driver and turn we unto. . .""); his dog-talk shifts from plain to pseudo-poetic to preachy, But, from the research horrors to the bleakly landscaped violence to Snitter's braindamaged delirium, there's a warm, vigorous pull that keeps reasserting itself. A bumpy journey, then, but you'll stay on to see how they run.