I applied to foster a dog, but a month into lockdown the entire nation had the same idea | Brigid Delaney

One dream dies, but in the empty space another has room to flourish.

When the borders closed in March and I realised I would no longer be working as a travel journalist, I saw the silver lining. I had long wanted to be a dog foster parent but, as I was only ever home for a few days at a time (sleep off jet lag, wash clothes, go again), it was not the right environment for a pet – even for a borrowed one.

But because of the virus, I would now be at home all the time and could shower a foster dog with love and attention.

I had wanted to be a dog foster parent ever since I met Robert Randoff.

In addition to their own pets, my friends Em and Hootan were fostering Robert when I stayed with them in Melbourne. Aged 16, Robert was a sweet-natured elderly chap in a tartan coat. He wandered around the house looking confused but happy and frequently had to be taken outside to pee. Robert was incontinent, wonky-eyed, totally deaf and semi-blind. I fell in love immediately.

I wondered if Robert Randoff was available to foster again, but I heard he had found an owner who adopted him (plus six other elderly dogs – what a woman!).

So I rang up the local pound and asked them if they fostered.

A resigned-sounding woman, who I imagined not to be in an office but in a yard surrounded by animals, asked: “What sort of animal is it? When are you wanting to bring it in?”

“No! I want to foster! I want to be a foster parent!”

This was 350 dog years ago – evidenced by the fact they were enthusiastic about my offer to foster. Had I owned a dog before?

Yes, a dog called Shaman.


No, “Shaman.”

“And what sort of dog was Shaman?”

I didn’t know. “It was big, browny-grey, like a dingo, descended from cattle dogs, I think.”

“Would you take a cat?”


They ran me through a range of questions to access my suitability. I liked walks; I would be home all the time; I had a big yard.

“And is that yard secured?” they asked.

Solace, the dog who Brigid Delaney looked after for a week.
Solace, the dog who Brigid Delaney looked after for a week.

“Yes, except for a three-metre-wide gap in the driveway.”

“You need to get it secured before you foster a dog.”

For the next couple of weeks my main obsession in life, apart from sanitising every surface and washing my groceries, was securing my property for my future foster dog.

The pet store had teeny-tiny dog gates, meaning I would need to buy 10 of them and put them in a row across the driveway. I started looking on Gumtree for an old farm gate, but as an unlicensed person, how would I transport and install a massive farm gate? Then there were the problems of dimensions. Too small and the dog could escape but what if the gate was too big? Would I have to remove fence palings in order to accommodate this mega gate? Would I be all gate and no fence?

Finally, I dropped in on a builder neighbour. Might he know where I could get a gate from?

He pointed at his own gate and said, “I can saw mine in half and give it to you.”

His answer appalled me. It was too generous! It was like someone offering to amputate a limb because you wished out loud for “a spare pair of hands”.

“I cannot take your gate! You’ll only have half a gate! And what’s the point in that?”

Eventually I agreed to take his gate.

By the time I rang up the shelter, mad March had turned into agonising April and all the animals had been fostered or adopted.


“All, except for one high-needs rabbit that requires a lot of medication.”

I started applying to shelters further away. I filled in forms, got referees. I was accepted as a foster parent at one that was about 150km away.

“How am I going to get the dog home?” I wondered. “Can I take it on public transport?”

Such questions of logistics (could I put the dog into an Uber?) now seem quaint.

It was a month into lockdown 1.0. The entire nation had the same idea. Everyone was wanting to foster, adopt, buy or rescue a dog.

The shelter I joined was inundated with new members. Any animal that was placed on their Facebook page to foster was quickly snapped up. “These people must just sit on the internet all day waiting for abandoned pets,” I grumbled. The admin asked that new foster carers be patient, that demand was high.

The economic statistics bore this out.

Real-time spending data showed between 30 March and 5 April there had been a surge in spending on pet care – up 28%.

Who knows what strange collective impulse moved us towards panic-buying pets during the early stages of the pandemic.

Was pet ownership a long dormant dream for many that just required the right conditions (a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders) to emerge? Or was it that in those fearful early days, many of us had a nascent craving for the unconditional love that only a dog can give?

Suddenly everyone on my social media feeds was showing off their new puppies. It was like everyone I knew had all had a baby at once.

Animal shelters were being emptied of pets.

“One of our shelters had been cleared out twice, with the demand so high for a feline friend,” a spokesperson from The Lost Dogs’ Home in North Melbourne told

I never got my Robert Randoff.

Iso 1.0 ended and I left country Victoria and returned to Sydney. But last week friends went away and asked me to mind their dog, Solace.

By the end of the week, Solace wouldn’t leave my arms (it took me four days to type this story). Saying goodbye on Monday was painful. That’s the thing I hadn’t considered when I was desperate to foster: you have to get used to letting them go.

• Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.