Catherine Violet Hubbard loved to hold and pet animals. Whenever she did, she whispered to them, even if it was a tiny insect in her palm: “Tell all your friends I am kind.”
“She said this so they would trust her and come back with their friends,” says Catherine’s mother, Jenny Hubbard. “And they always did.”
“She just had a thing for all creatures,” Hubbard adds. “When she was in kindergarten she had business cards made up that said ‘Catherine’s Animal Shelter.’ She loved our dog, her stuffed animals. I think it was innate in her soul.”
If you walk into the office of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, you will see T-shirts on display bearing the message, “Tell all your friends I am kind.”
The sanctuary’s website, cvhfoundation.org, tells us: “Catherine always said that one day she would care for all animals. They were her love affair and nurturing them was her passion. Had she not fallen victim in the tragedy of Sandy Hook, there is no doubt she would have realized her dream. The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary is that wish fulfilled for a little girl lost too soon.”
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Her parents, Jenny and Matt Hubbard, are working with the community and donors around the world to make her dream a reality by creating this animal sanctuary in her name on 34 acres of meadows, woodlands and trails in the heart of Newtown.
When I meet Jenny Hubbard at the sanctuary office, she hands me a brochure saying the goal is to provide “a place of compassion and acceptance where all creatures will know they are safe and people are kind, just as Catherine would have wanted.”
Once the funds are raised and the buildings constructed, the public will be able to take advantage of a farm animal refuge, native wildlife rehabilitation and release, companion animal adoption, educational workshops and a program to keep elderly animals out of the shelter and in loving homes.
Hubbard and I take a short drive from the office to the nearby sanctuary, whose address is 3 Old Farm Road, just beyond the town’s animal control facility and dog park.
Although the sanctuary is a work in progress whose only structures are a restored barn, a bare-bones model where the pavilion will stand, a stone wall and wooden garden beds, Hubbard says: “We welcome people to park before the bridge, hike over it and visit the sanctuary. We’re open from dawn to dusk for hikers, dog walkers and people who want to have picnics.” The sanctuary is also the scene of on-site educational programming during the warmer months.
As we stroll through the muddy fields, she tells me the property was donated by the state in 2014. “We would love to start construction next year. All of that, though, is contingent on fundraising. Our hope is to open in 2021.”
A small truck lumbers nearby, clearing a section of the meadow. “They’re finishing the initial site work, draining and grading, to prepare for building construction,” Hubbard says. “It’s exciting for me to see the transformation.”
All around us are signs of donated labor and landscape. When we walk past a group of trees, she says, “Families donated these maples and spruces.”
A year or two ago we wouldn’t have been able to walk there at all because invasive plants had taken over. UConn’s Department of Invasive Plants was called in to write an invasive land management plan and help implement it.
Hubbard takes me to the pavilion model, a bear statue standing in front. “This will be the gateway to the sanctuary. It will welcome people, symbolic of Catherine. The pavilion will have red terra cotta tile — and that’s symbolic of her (bright red) hair.”
Then Hubbard shows me the stone wall, stretching along the meadow. “What’s incredible about this milestone is it was all donated.”
Four men built it, led by mason brothers Gino and Nick Vona. “Gino wanted to leave a legacy, something that had meaning. He said, ‘I’ve got an idea.’ ” And he inset a sun, facing the rising sun. “He said he wanted this to be ‘a place where heaven and earth reach up and down to each other.’ He didn’t know I’d said this was a place where ‘heaven and earth bump up against each other.’ ”
Hubbard is also thankful to Newtown’s PH Architects for donating all labor as the firm plans the buildings. “It’s unbelievable the amount of support they’ve given us.”
Our next stop is the budding community garden, which will be planted in the spring by members of local sustainable food initiative Real Food Share. The potatoes and vegetables will go to local food pantries. Eventually the garden beds will support sanctuary programs and feed rescued farm animals. “We had a corporate work day with over 300 volunteers building the beds for the garden.”
Hubbard takes me into the barn, restored to its original condition by more volunteers. “Small animals will be brought here to live out their days: sheep, goats, chickens.”
Toward the end of our tour, I broach the subject of that terrible day, Dec. 14, 2012, when Catherine and 19 other first-graders died, along with six school staff members.
I had read a news article quoting Hubbard saying yes to “forgiveness.” I ask her about this and how she is able to carry on. “I have a very strong faith. And I think that — I don’t think I will ever get to a place of ‘forgive.’ I think I got to a place of peace and knowing that I really don’t know what was going on with him and his family. It’s not my job to judge; I’m glad I don’t have to judge. I don’t know what he was going through. He was a disturbed kid. A lot of my peace is about moving forward with my life.”
She looks out over the rolling fields. “To be able to honor her memory in this beautiful way is what takes precedence for me.”
Coming up this month:
All Creatures Kind and Caring
Jan. 26, noon-2 p.m., Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane, Newtown
Experts will answer questions about wild and domestic creatures and animal ambassadors will include exotics, backyard farm animals, wildlife, and adoptable dogs and cats.
To donate to the sanctuary, go to cvhfoundation.org or call 866-620-8640.