Though Catherine Violet Hubbard tragically lost her life at age 6 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, her legacy of kindness to animals lives on through the sanctuary that bears her name.
The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, Connecticut, offers myriad programs that benefit wildlife, the environment, pets, and people.
“When we started considering the programming that the sanctuary would offer, we knew that we were going to stay true to Catherine, my daughter—the reason we started the sanctuary,” Jenny Hubbard, Catherine’s mom and executive director of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, told The Dog People. “She had such a passion for animals and wanted to care for them. And so our overarching mission is to honor the human-animal bond and to make sure that animals can live safely in their rightful homes.”
A Little Girl’s Dream
The sanctuary’s work is a tribute to the loving nature of a little girl who once made business cards declaring she was the “Care Taker” at “Catherine’s Animal Shelter.”
Hubbard, who left a corporate career to raise Catherine and her older brother, Freddy, said her kids had hopped onto her laptop to create the cards (Freddy’s was “Freddy’s Landscaping”) while playing pretend.
“I thought they were making these things on construction paper and cutting them out. They were literally in Vistaprint,” she recalled with a laugh.
Soon each budding entrepreneur had ordered 250 business cards (Hubbard said no, but they circumvented her through their dad). The cards weren’t supposed to leave the house since the businesses didn’t actually exist. But a few days later, Catherine’s kindergarten teacher sent an email that read, “Catherine’s business cards are the most precious thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It speaks to Catherine’s fiery determination, and that fact that she had this spirit of wanting to make sure that the world knew—and the world’s creatures knew—that she was their caretaker,” she said. “We moved shortly before Catherine died, and I found her business cards when we were unpacking. And thank God she ordered them, because it really helped us navigate, ‘How do you honor your daughter’s life when it was taken so suddenly?’”
Catherine made sure to tell the frogs, butterflies, and other creatures she played with in the yard that she would take care of them. The family had a rule that any animals the children caught had to be released later in the day—no overnight guests allowed.
“She had this really beautiful way of sending them off at the end of the day. She would ask them to tell their friends that she was kind. She thought—wisely so—that if they knew that she was kind, then they would come back in droves. So her heart was to make sure that whatever creature was in her midst knew that she was kind and they weren’t going to get hurt,” Hubbard said. “So the work that we do at the sanctuary is really centered on her little whisper of making sure that everybody knows that she’s kind.”
Those whispers have made a huge impact. Not long after the nonprofit’s inception in 2013, the State of Connecticut conveyed 34 acres of land in Newtown to create the sanctuary. Since then, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary has worked to restore and preserve habitat—including creating an apiary and planting a pollinator garden to promote bee conservation—and begun construction projects.
Currently the group is working to preserve a trout brook and build a welcome pavilion with a red roof reminiscent of Catherine’s hair and fiery spirit. Other plans include building an educational building and a veterinary intake facility to share with the animal welfare community, and space for rescued farm animals.
Helping the Most Vulnerable
One of the sanctuary’s programs is the innovative Senior Paw Project. The program provides free pet food and veterinary care to residents of senior housing communities in 25 towns in Connecticut and plans to double it by the end of the year.
So far, the Senior Paw Project has provided 322,065 pet food meals, supported 262 pets and helped foster 20 animals, Hubbard says.
Two recipients of the program are Sabrina Wilson, 66, and her 11-year-old Puggle, Baily.
Wilson, a semi-retired personal chef and caterer, adopted her dog around 10 years ago from a military couple deploying to Iraq. She adores the funny, friendly dog who loves to approach strangers at the dog park for a butt scratch.
But about a year ago, Baily developed medical issues—including a thyroid condition, Cushing’s disease, and arthritis—that need to be managed with expensive medications.
So in September 2021, with assistance from a social worker, Wilson started getting pet food and veterinary care for Baily from the Senior Paw Project. A veterinarian and her assistant even check in on Baily (as well as Wilson’s cat, Lily) each month at home.
“They’re really keeping him alive,” Wilson told The Dog People. “He probably would have died or I would’ve had to put him to sleep. It’s amazing what they do. Just amazing.”
The Butterfly Effect
Most of the sanctuary’s work is dependent on securing funding, which the nonprofit is typically able to generate through fundraisers and grants. (One way to support the nonprofit is by donating in honor or memory of a “beautiful butterfly” you love at: www.cvhfoundation.org/butterflies.)
Donations help the sanctuary continue to offer its wide array of programs like the Senior Paw Project, and also conservation and learning opportunities such as nature hikes and beekeeping classes, and free community workshops called “Sunday at the Sanctuary” that share how to care for wildlife habitats.
The sanctuary also hosts goat yoga and has an upcoming workshop called “Goats Galore” so the public can meet goat rescue organizations and learn what it takes to care for pet goats from a veterinarian. Each year around Easter, the sanctuary also helps people learn to care for pet bunnies and chicks so that the animals aren’t returned to shelters once the holiday is over.
“My experience has been that people and families want to bring animals into their lives. If they have the right information to care for that animal, then they’ll make choices in the animal’s best interest,” Hubbard said.
Deep Connection, Lasting Legacy
Catherine herself helped care for the family’s senior yellow Labrador Retriever, Sammy. At age 13, Sammy’s arthritis was severe but she’d hear the school bus coming and rally to meet the kids at the door when they came home from school.
But after the tragedy of December 14, 2012, Sammy went from not doing well to not even moving. Hubbard believes the weight of losing her human—“Catherine and Sammy were inseparable”—was too much for the dog. The family had to say goodbye to Sammy two weeks after Catherine died.
Before Sammy was put to sleep, Catherine’s brother Freddy, then 8, leaned over and asked the dog, “Would you tell her I said hi?”
“I thought, ‘Wow—he knows where Sammy’s going and that Catherine’s going to be there for Sammy when she crossed over that Rainbow Bridge,” Hubbard said.
She feels it’s a “humbling honor” to honor Catherine’s loving spirit through the work of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.
“I really don’t know where Catherine would have landed when she became an adult, and what her career path would be specifically. But I do know that it would have involved animals in one way or another,” she said. “I’m just grateful that we have the opportunity to fulfill her dream and her wish to make sure that animals knew that she was kind.”
To donate or learn more about the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, please visit: www.cvhfoundation.org
To preserve the dignity of the people it serves through the Senior Paw Project, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary works directly with senior residential housing coordinators to reach people who need support. If you are a social worker who supports Connecticut seniors who need help caring for their pets, learn more at: www.cvhfoundation.org/senior-paw-project/