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Finding Sanctuary

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How one Newtown mother is preserving her daughter’s legacy, one animal at a time.


Catherine Hubbard

The world stopped on December 14, 2012, as the news broke about a shooting in an elementary school in a small town in Connecticut. That night, while many of us hugged our children a little tighter and stayed by their bedside just a little bit longer, families in Newtown were grieving and trying to make sense of a tragedy that stole from them their ability to do the same.

A few weeks later, I joined my husband, Scott, on a visit to the new school that housed the survivors, teachers and students attempting the impossible—to pick up and move forward, their lives diminished by loss. Every inch of the school walls were covered with beautiful renderings sent from across the nation offering love and support. Therapy dogs roamed the hallways delivering hugs and healing, and cryptic signs that said ‘please, no loud noises’ hung on the classroom doors. We were there to read to the children and meet with families.

We met Jenny Hubbard in her home, a son glued to her side. On the mantel was a framed picture of a precious, red-headed, freckle-faced girl, named Catherine. She was Jenny’s daughter and one of the lives lost at Sandy Hook. The pain was still raw—how could it not be?—and I sat with her, mother to mother, while she shared stories. She described a loving daughter who had an unusual affinity for animals; all creatures, really. She told me about an afternoon in her backyard when she overheard Catherine whispering to a butterfly, “Tell all of your friends that I am kind.” At Jenny’s feet lounged an old dog, Catherine’s faithful and constant companion. And then she described to me a vision she had, something tangible to keep her daughter’s memory alive.

This past August, I visited with Jenny again, this time in the offices of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation. It had been eight years since that first meeting in her living room; her son is now a junior in high school, and the old dog has long since passed. And the foundation, which was launched in 2013, now includes a beautiful sanctuary on 34 acres in the heart of Newtown, which will be the home of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.

And the work they do is nothing short of miraculous: They have not only provided multiple, free, in-school and online educational programs, but have also responded to the needs of animals during the Covid-19 pandemic by delivering 94,000 pet food meals and stocking local food pantries. Plus, the foundation has found loving homes for more than 250 animals and, through its Senior Paw Project, has helped keep more than 80 animals with their senior owners, covering medical and routine costs. Partnering with experts, the foundation helps the community care for injured or orphaned wildlife. The vision that Jenny articulated to me weeks after the loss of her daughter is a reality today and continues to grow.

And that growth is guided by one very important overriding principle: Would Catherine like it?

Sitting with Jenny, I was struck by her commitment to the foundation and by what she has been able to create, against all odds and despite many roadblocks. “Sometimes you just need to jump the wall,” she mused.

The CVH Animal Sanctuary team (from left) Harmony Verna, Alice DiLuoffo, Jennifer Hubbard and Laura King.

Personally, I was inspired by her faith. How does one accept the unimaginable, the unforgiveable? How does one find peace again, a will to live? “Everyone has an unthinkable,” she says. And that may be, but Jenny has taken her unthinkable and turned it into a living presence that is touching so many lives. The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation’s mission is to strengthen the bonds between animals and humans. Their resolve can be seen in the excitement of children as they learn about the environment and how best to care for a new pet, or the relief in the eyes of the elderly who are able to keep their closest ally by their side.

A rendering of the future “Catherine’s Library”

We spent our time on the grounds of the sanctuary. It was a beautiful day. We walked around the community garden beds that, together with Real Food Share, provide for the hungry, the pollinator butterfly gardens, and a renovated barn that acts as a storage shed and we looked out at wooded lands and miles of trails. We rested on the beautifully crafted stone retainer wall and imagined the buildings that would one day sit proudly in the center of the sanctuary: homes for veterinary work and animal rescue. It was hard not to feel the sacredness.

Jenny told us the story of one talented stone mason, Gino Vona, who gave of his time freely and created a beautiful sun within the wall of stones. Vona believed it was the exact place where the sun’s rays reach down to earth and the earth reached back up to heaven.

And then Jenny sighed. “And what Gino didn’t know,” she said, “is that for me, the sanctuary has always meant the same, a place where heaven and earth bump. That’s where Catherine is. And isn’t that a true sign of divinity?”

December is a time of giving and getting, a time of wonder and joy. It is also the anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings in our country. Every year, we weep with the survivors in a show of solidarity. We can’t fathom living though such a tragedy; we can’t imagine such loss. That is why the story of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation is so triumphant. That is why I hold Jenny Hubbard in such high esteem, mother to mother. Eight years ago, Jenny lost her only daughter, in a small town in Connecticut, but today, and every day, she honors her memory and her spirit in the beauty and peace that transcends all physical boundaries, and isn’t that the greatest example of the divine love that we celebrate this time of year?

To find more information on the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation, visit cvhfoundation.org.

Bill glass (sanctuary team)opposite: bill glass (butterfly with moon & stone wall, Marleen cafarelli (boy with horse, owl, girl with dog & people hiking

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