Sandy Hook mother honors daughter's legacy with animal sanctuary

(Photo courtesy of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary)
(Photo courtesy of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary)

NEWTOWN, Conn. — In the weeks and months that followed the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many of the parents whose young children were killed in the mass shooting founded charitable organizations in their honor.

One of the first was an animal sanctuary dedicated to Catherine Hubbard.

“Her passion was animals,” Jenny Hubbard, Catherine’s mother and president and executive director of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, told Yahoo News in a recent interview. “It was her life's work — if you can be considered having a life’s work as a 6-year-old.”

The sanctuary happened by accident, according to Jenny.

Jenny Hubbard
Sandy Hook parent Jenny Hubbard. (Courtesy of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary)

“When I wrote Catherine’s obituary, I meant to write, ‘In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to the Animal Control Center in Newtown,’ which is like the pound,” she explained. “It was Catherine's go-to place. But instead I wrote, ‘Animal Center of Newtown,’ which is a rescue operation. They got tons of donations in Catherine’s name, and the people there suggested we open an animal sanctuary in her honor.”

Their suggestion was prescient. After her death, Jenny discovered that Catherine had made business cards in class. They read: “Catherine’s Animal Shelter” with Catherine assuming the self-appointed title of “caretaker.”

“I wanted to honor her loss and her legacy,” Jenny said.

The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation launched in 2013. The sanctuary opened in 2014 with a mission to promote compassion and healing through the “human-animal connection.”

Since its inception, the volunteer-driven sanctuary has provided a safe haven for over 1,000 companion animals. Its programs include a pollinator protection initiative, free community workshops centered around animal care and environmental protection and the Senior Paw Project, which provides elderly pet owners with veterinarian care and food. The group has expanded to serve 29 towns across Connecticut.

In 2014, the sanctuary received a grant from the state for 34 acres of farmland. And each June, the sanctuary hosts Catherine's Butterfly Party, a free animal adoption event in honor of her birthday. This past year, she would have turned 16.

Catherine Hubbard
Catherine Hubbard. (Courtesy of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary)

On Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the massacre, it will break ground on a $10 million renovation that will include its first permanent facilities. The buildings will pay homage to Catherine, with a red terracotta steeple in the center to represent her red hair.

“Typically we have marked each anniversary very quietly,” Jenny said. “As we approached the 10-year mark, knowing there would be a lot of conversation and attention given to Dec. 14 this year, important to me that as we hit the milestone, it was important for me to be forward-focused. And really make sure that I entered the new decade knowing of the compassion and the kindness that’s going to continue because of the sanctuary and because of the people that have helped make it.”

“Every year around this time brings new emotions,” she added. “This year I am filled with a sense of gratitude.”

The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary
A view of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary. (Courtesy of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary)