Ten years after Sandy Hook, a mother builds her daughter’s dream animal sanctuary

The sanctuary will offer veterinary care, educate visitors, and serve as a stopover for hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators.

Catherine Violet Hubbard, 6, was one of the 20 children killed on December 14, 2012, inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her mother is now realizing her childhood dream of opening an animal sanctuary. Jenny Hubbard broke ground for the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, a non-profit to foster the bond between humans and animals, exactly ten years after the school shooting, in December 2022, in honour of her daughter, an avid animal lover.

The sanctuary will offer veterinary care, educate visitors, and serve as a stopover for hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators. Catherine has always loved animals, and Hubbard told The Washington Post that by the age of five, she knew she wanted to be an animal sanctuary caretaker when she grew up. The groundbreaking is also Hubbard’s way of turning her grief into a joyful remembrance of her daughter. “I made a conscious choice since the tragedy to not focus on and continue to relive what happened in Sandy Hook,” Hubbard said. “…It’s a solemn day for sure. And it is a day that I will forever remember as losing Catherine, but it’s also a moment to look forward with hope that she didn’t die for nothing.”

One of Hubbard’s favourite Catherin memories is when a butterfly landed on her as she sat still in the grass. She would usually try to catch anything from insects to birds and squirrels. However, the young girl was calm and peaceful this time. According to Hubbard, “I’ve tried to pinpoint the day where I was like, ‘Wow, Catherine really loves animals.’ But I can’t because animals were always just a part of her. It was what she was drawn to, as much as they were drawn to her compassion.”

Catherine had a strong desire to open an animal shelter. Her brother and she once purchased 250 business cards for “Catherine’s Animal Shelter.” Catherine’s business card stated that she was a “Care Taker.” First, Hubbard was “mortified” that they had ordered business cards for a non-existent company. She stated, “So I said to both of them that the business cards couldn’t leave the house. The next day I got an email from Catherine’s kindergarten teacher telling me that her business cards were just precious, just precious.” The baby pink cards are now at the sanctuary. “We love them because, in so many ways, it’s Catherine’s desire to be a caretaker, lived out day in and day out, that we’re doing,” the proud mother added.

After Hubbard made a typo in Catherine’s obituary, asking well-wishers to donate to the Animal Center rather than the Animal Control Center, plans for the sanctuary began to take shape. “A group of women who ran the nonprofit, Animal Center of Newtown, suddenly received a significant amount of funds in memory of Catherine,” Hubbard said. “After that, they met with me and shared an idea of creating a place where children would see their own innate beauty in the eyes of the animals that they encountered. And as they shared what their vision was, I could see Catherine and her life and everything that she stood for.”

In 2014, Hubbard was able to establish the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation. The foundation was even given 34 acres of land by the state of Connecticut, but it took another eight years for her to start building permanent facilities. Meanwhile, the land was used to host a variety of programs and events, including Catherine’s birthday “Butterfly Party” on June 8.

Hubbard now intends to broaden the foundation’s impact by providing a home for both two-legged and four-legged friends. “I know Catherine will be looking down on us, and she’ll be just so completely and absolutely thrilled,” she said. “Because we’ve chosen to see the best in humanity. And [the future] may not be how we wanted it to look or what we think it’s supposed to be, but I can assure you that something good does come out of every tragedy.”