Paws up for animal-assisted therapy

For children and animals alike, Green Chimneys is a place of learning and healing.

The Putnam County nonprofit, which has an additional location in Carmel, provides animal-assisted education and treatment for children with special needs. The facility’s farm and wildlife center is also home to more than 200 animals, some of which face struggles of their own.

“The students that we have at Green Chimneys experience social and emotional issues that really affect their ability to learn and develop in their own home school districts,” says Jennifer Milillo, director of marketing and communications at Green Chimneys. “Here, they’re learning all of the same skills.”

Green Chimneys encourages interaction between its wild and domestic counterparts. This alternative approach creates new opportunities for the students.  In turn, the animals, which have been donated, rescued, found or rehabilitated after injury, receive some TLC. By working together, the students learn responsibility, empathy, caregiving and compassion.

The organization has a preschool, a therapeutic day school and a residential treatment center, as well as before- and after-school programs and a summer camp. The school is a New York state-accredited special education facility that serves 250 students, 100 of whom live on campus. The Patterson campus serves day and residential students in grades K-12, while the Clearpool campus in Carmel has smaller, more intensive classes for students in grades 4 through 8. The summer day camp accommodates nearly 800 students annually.

But since its inception, the facility has served thousands.

“When we opened in 1947 as a boarding school model, there were 11 children,” Milillo says. “So we’ve substantially grown over the years.”

It was during Green Chimney’s early days — nearly 70 years ago — that founder Samuel B. “Rollo” Ross Jr. introduced this nature-based approach. At just 19 years old, Ross set up activities, like dog training, garden work and animal feeding, to promote child-animal interaction and personal development.

It was also during this time that Green Chimneys’ barn cupolas and chimneys were accidentally painted green, which stuck as the nonprofit’s name.

Today, the facility continues to execute Ross’ vision by incorporating students into daily tasks, like egg collecting, pen cleaning and animal grooming, and more intensive therapies, like horseback riding.

But each student’s curriculum is designed according to individual preferences.

“Animal-assisted activities can come in many shapes and forms,” says Milillo. “We have many activities and much of it has to do with what a child gravitates to.”

The animals at Green Chimneys include farm and barn animals and undomesticated wildlife, like falcons, owls and snakes.

Students are also regularly exposed to horticultural education. At the Educational School Gardens on both campuses, students can grow and harvest their own vegetables and prepare meals using their homegrown produce. At the Boni-Bel Organic Farm in Brewster, students participate in a more hands-on experience involving vocational training, seasonal farm operations and retail responsibilities at The Country Store, which sells Green Chimneys’ homegrown produce and handmade gifts.

On  June 5 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Green Chimneys hosts its 24th annual Birds of Prey Day, its largest event of the year. On June 8, the nonprofit teams with Neiman Marcus Westchester for a fashion show. (See Page 52 for details.) On July 16, Green Chimneys is the “charity of choice” for The Victory Cup polo match at Kirby Hill Farm in Pawling from 1 to 8 p.m. Then on Aug. 2, it’s the annual fundraising Golf Classic at Sunningdale Country Club in Scarsdale, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Green Chimneys is at 400 Doansburg Road in Patterson and 33 Clearpool Road in Carmel. For more, call 845-279-2995 or visit

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