What Is BewilderBeasts?
Bewilderbeasts tells the stories of animals at the intersection of humanity.
Some of these stories are gut-bustingly funny, like the time the highway department used 20 cases of TNT to blow up a dead whale instead of 20 sticks, or that the National Weather Service has to send weather alerts warning of frozen, falling iguanas.
Other stories touch on more serious and important topics, like racism through the lens of Dr. William Key, a self-taught veterinarian, a freed slave who vowed never to use a whip to teach his animals. He went on to inspire 2 million kids before the Internet to be kind to animals despite not being allowed to go into all the places his horse, Beautiful Jim Key - a horse who could do math - could go.
You might have heard these stories before - but not like this.
Each episode of BewilderBeasts covers three subjects and is between 15 and 30 minutes long. Perfect for a dog-walk around the neighborhood or folding laundry. It's if Stuff You Should Know, The Memory Palace and No Such Thing As A Fish had a weird night and what came of it was a story telling, "did you know" podcast, but only about animals, intersecting at humanity.
It's appropriate for children because it was inspired by kids, but also for the parents who have to listen to kids podcasts because Melissa, the host, is a parent who has to listen to kid's podcasts and was determined to make something for both demographics.
BewilderBeasts is appropriate for all ages, but there are jokes for kids and adults alike.
How Did BewilderBeasts Get Started?
Bewilderbeasts came out of a 5-week class for kids in Somerville, MA during the COVID19 crisis.
The city of Somerville, MA, and Somerville Media Center teamed up to give kids free programming during the summer when a normal summer was not in the realm of possibility. For parents looking for ways to keep kids busy but indoors, and for kids looking for things to do, this was a perfect way to help kids have access to programming they might not have had before. Parkour, music, dance, crafts, book clubs, cooking classes, coding and gaming classes, all brought to kids from professionals around Boston who wanted to help these kids.
Melissa signed her kiddo up for some of these classes and realized the kids might want something to do with animals. She typed in the Zoom chat to the organizer who blurted out to the kids, "Hey, kids! Do you want to learn about animals?" and the zoom room went wild. Melissa assumed she'd do just a week of talking about dogs because that's her real-life job, but after the kids said they wanted more, she volunteered the next 5 weeks to animal programming despite not having a plan of action.
The five weeks, all available on YouTube became the foundation of BewilderBeasts.
How to train any animal in your home (guinea pigs, fish, cats, dogs, and kid brothers)
Jobs animals do for humans (arson detection dogs, Croatian bomb bees)
Jobs humans can do with / for animals (forensic veterinarians, researchers, dog trainers, and illustrators)
Animal sports (snail racing, equestrian soccer, equestrian gymnastics)
Animals who changed history (Mrs. O'Leary's cow, the asp who killed Cleopatra, Balto & Togo, Sgt. Stubby)
It was after the summer session that Melissa realized she loved teaching these kids - and a few curious adults who popped in from time to time - but that she was also finding the light in the dark. By researching these animals and their stories was therapeutic to Melissa, too. It has given her a digestible task that has been inspiring her own curiosity and fascination with topics outside her typical wheelhouse.
She has since been able to help teachers in schools telling stories of animals tied into history and science, and she can just talk about wombat poop being square for the youngest participants.
So while BewilderBeasts was for kids during a crisis, it ended up helping Melissa and a few hundred families pivot in a pandemic, too. Proving yet again that animals really do more for us humans than we can ever thank them for.