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The Summit School at Nyack, in New York’s lower Hudson Valley, is a boarding school with an all-star cast of therapy animals. There are two dogs, Moose and Rudy; two goats, Sawyer and Scout; and a show-stealing, kunekune pig named Eleanor Pigby. The menagerie embarks on short hikes around Hudson Valley with students, and their leader Anna Sicari, animal caregiver at Summit School. Sicari is also a life-long hiker who’s summited 102 of New England’s highest 115 peaks.
“My job is wild,” Sicari says. “Originally, I organized physical education classes and had an idea to incorporate a therapy dog. This grew to chickens and ducks, then goats, and now we have Eleanor. Hiking was always part of our program, so I decided on a whim to take the animals hiking with us. It’s been amazing.”
The 6-month-old Pigby has become a school favorite. The student body votes on the name of each new therapy animal (Notorious P.I.G. or “PIggy Smalls” was the runner up), and feeding the animals each morning is now part of the boarding school’s routine. Before hitting the trails, Sicari decided to try walking Pigby through the town of Nyack on a leash.
“Someone would rub her belly or she’d find a puddle, flop down, and be done,” says Sicari. “But when we took her in the woods off-leash, she was great.” Now, Pigby trots along on short hikes, like the two-mile out-and-back to Hook Mountain in Hook Mountain State Park.
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“The most difficult thing is getting her in and out of the van,” Sicari says. “The goats are no big deal because they can jump like five feet.” Another Summit School staffer built a ramp for the 15-passenger van, which they use to shuttle students to local trailheads (the backseat is removed to accommodate the animals). Pigby will be fully grown at five years old and will weigh around 250 pounds. “We’ll keep bringing her as long as we can,” Sicari says.
Before acquiring Pigby, Sicari researched pigs and zeroed in on the kunekune breed for their good looks (“There’s a lot of ugly pigs out there,” Sicari says) and personality. Sicari describes Pigby as very smart and “dog-like.”
The students taught Pigby to sit in just one day, and the hairy piglet runs across the field where she lives each morning to greet the students.
“I love any activity that gets kids moving, gets them outside and off their phones,” Sicari says. “Our animal program has been wonderful for all of that. They really bring happiness to our students.”
But how do area hikers react to seeing a group of high school students and several farm animals hiking toward them?
“Some people say we’ve made their day, their month, their year. Others have absolutely no reaction and hike on by without even a glance, which is so funny to me. How could you not have a reaction to this crew?” says Sicari.
As winter approaches, the school plans to continue their hikes and expects that the animals will enjoy the cooler temperatures instead of the muggy 100-degree days of summer.
“Eleanor’s got long hair,” Sicari says. “She’ll be good.”