It’s been five years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Catherine Violet Hubbard was one of 20 children killed, along with six educators. Her family has spent the past five years planning an animal sanctuary in her memory.
Davis Dunavin visited the land in Newtown that will serve as the grounds for the sanctuary. He was there at the end of November for an annual event they call the Settling In. It’s when the sanctuary invites locals to come by and help the deer, rabbits, birds and other wild animals on the land get ready for winter.
“Days like today really remind us of the opportunities and obligations that we have to care for the animals we share the earth with,” said Jenny Hubbard, Catherine’s mom.
Hubbard oversees the sanctuary. Dozens of families and children are here – they’re on hay rides, building bird feeders and exploring a kid-sized replica of a nest that rabbits use to keep warm in the winter.
“Kids can run around and be kids, we just love it. The meadows are hayed, it’s a special day,” Hubbard said.
One of the most popular attractions is a pumpkin catapult. Kids line up to drop in a pumpkin and watch it launch into a nearby field.
“The pumpkins people have for Thanksgiving don’t need to go to the dump, they don’t need to go to garbage cans," Hubbard said. They can actually go into our meadows and they help feed the animals over winter.”
This land once belonged to the State of Connecticut, which gave it to the Hubbard Family Foundation in 2014. A local animal rescue center had a suggestion for them: use the land to build an animal sanctuary.
“We weren’t real sure what that meant. And when they described it as a place where children will be able to look into the eyes of animals and see their innate beauty, we knew it was exactly what Catherine would want.”
Catherine was in love with animals from the moment she got her first rescue dog.
“She would tell us she was going to start an animal rescue. She made business cards in kindergarten and told us she was going to care for all the animals.”
Jenny Hubbard says Catherine didn’t discriminate. If you asked her what her favorite animal was, she’d say – all the animals.
“She would catch insects or butterflies … she would send them off ... asking them if they would go tell their friends that she was kind. And her thought was that if the animals knew they were safe, she was kind, they would come back in droves, they would bring their friends back. Not surprisingly, they always did.”
Those words – tell your friends that I am kind – they’ve been adopted as a kind of slogan and they greet visitors to the sanctuary land.
Hubbard has thought a lot about what the past five years have meant to her. More than anything, she says they’ve been a lesson in kindness. That’s what she sees in the support from people in Newtown and around the world who have donated time or money or care to help the families who lost someone on December 14, 2012.
“The compassion and the kindness that was given to us over the past five years is so important in a world that’s hurting and in a world that’s bombarded with messages of tragedy and despair.”
Hubbard says the best way for those who want to remember Catherine and the others who lost their lives that day is to spread that kindness, whether it’s to people or to animals.
“Putting a bird feeder outside or bringing milk bones to an animal rescue, or just being nice to someone at lunch. We felt like we can give forward the kindness and compassion and encourage what’s been given to us.”
Hubbard has plans for the sanctuary to offer a shelter, a vet clinic and a wildlife rehabilitation program. It’s taken a while to raise funds, but she hopes they can break ground next year.
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies, including Rhode Island Public Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.