Over drinks at Toronto's Wheat Sheaf Tavern, Hermes and Apollo get into a debate about whether animals could live happily if they had the same cognitive and speech abilities as humans. They decide to wager a year of servitude on the outcome of granting the gifts of human reasoning and language to a group of dogs in a nearby clinic.
Given their newfound abilities, the dogs are able to escape the clinic and make their way to the city's High Park, where they set up their own new protosociety. The novel then explores the functioning of their new society through the impact of human values, such as individuality and personal freedom, on the conventionally hierarchical social order of dog packs. Key characters in the canine society include Atticus, a Neapolitan Mastiff who naturally emerges as the group leader; Majnoun, a black poodle who is reluctant to trust other dogs; Frick and Frack, a pair of Labrador retrievers who are leery about their new reality; and Prince, a mutt who embraces his language skills to become a poet.