introducing the five-minute pet

If your family is not ready for a cat or dog, this could be the perfect answer

August 24 2018

Dr Matthew Bulbert would love to have a dog but it’s out of the question - he lives in a Sydney apartment and he travels a lot. But in a world that’s alive with native wild animals, even in the city, Bulbert doesn’t feel he’s missing out. Rather, the behavioural ecologist sees pets wherever he looks. They might not be good looking. They may be very small. But they reward with a burst of wellbeing.

“The other day I took rubbish out to the bin, and I saw a frog, and I picked up the frog, and brought it in and showed it to my partner, and we talked about it,” says Bulbert, a lecturer and researcher in animal behaviour in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University.

“It’s this concept of being a five-minute pet owner. I’m walking along and I see a skink, or a bird, or a spider, or an ant, and I’ll stop and think about it, and ask myself what it’s doing and how it’s doing that, and then I’ll walk on.

“It’s not like I’m actually owning it so much but just appreciating it.”


Dr Matthew Bulbert with a 'five-minute pet'

Dr Matthew Bulbert with a 'five-minute pet'


Dr Bulbert wants people to notice the native animals that share our environment and appreciate them for the amazing creatures that they are.

“David Attenborough talks about this appreciation of nature as bringing a sense of mindfulness, because you actually have to focus on something other than yourself,” Bulbert says.

“There’s this whole amazing array of diversity that is functioning and living and doing their thing all around us that we just completely ignore because we don’t even know it’s there - we kind of separate ourselves from nature, and that’s very easy to do in an urban environment; but we’re actually still an animal ourselves and part of that environment.

“Understanding the behaviour of any animal can help you make greater connections with those animals,” Bulbert says. “It can also help you better understand what it means to be human as well, if you look at how these other animals manage to do the incredibly complex things they do with arguably less capacity to do it … it’s pretty amazing.”

There is also the reality that we need these animals to maintain our quality of life and environment, Bulbert says: for clean water and healthy soils, to clean up and recycle animal and plant waste, and to pollinate the plants we rely on to eat.

This article was republished with permission by Macquarie University Lighthouse.