One day after a shooting that killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ryan Martin, 24, his brother Brendan, 22, Colleen Thornberg, 22 and Christie Attanasio, 22, from Newtown pin a banner to a fence in Newtown.
Neville Elder—Corbis via Getty Images
By Jennifer Hubbard
December 14, 2017

Five years ago, we were no different than any other family preparing for Christmas. Little did we know that the unthinkable was about to happen and instead of writing holiday cards, we would be forced to write our daughter’s obituary. You see, five years ago on December 14, 2012, our daughter, Catherine Violet Hubbard, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the worst mass shootings in our country’s history.

After the tragedy in Newtown, we asked people to honor Catherine’s life by supporting the animals she loved. Animals were her passion and caring for them was her mission. We had no idea a simple ask would put so much into motion. In the following weeks, donations poured in from across the country and around the globe to help the creatures our daughter cherished. So much so, that we made a decision that would change our lives forever: to create the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, a place where all creatures would know that they are safe and people are kind, just as Catherine would have wanted.

Many have joined us in our quest for a kinder world and have rallied around our daughter’s pure and innocent dream. In 2013, the ASPCA not only honored Catherine posthumously with it’s Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year award, but also launched our building campaign by granting the sanctuary $50,000 toward the creation of the veterinary intake facility. Just a year later, the state of Connecticut voted unanimously to convey 34 acres in the heart of Newtown for the site of the sanctuary.

Since then, we have developed programming that teaches stewardship of animals and caring for their habitats, even bringing these lessons into the Newtown Public Schools K-4 classrooms. Our in-school and “Sundays at the Sanctuary” workshops reach over 400 people every month. Through our Senior Paw Project and work with 19 rescues from the tri-state area, we continue to honor Catherine’s mission of caring for animals. Specifically, our annual Butterfly Party welcomes over 3,000 people and last year, found homes for 55 animals.

Five years ago, our family lost so much. But in that loss we eventually found much. We found love, kindness, and a hope. We found that we are not divided by our hardships, but united in our compassion for one another. Through people we’ve encountered and opportunities we have been afforded, we have seen Catherine’s spirit live on in the values and generosity of so many. In the smiles of the children who attend our workshops and the animals that have found their forever homes through our programs, we see Catherine’s joy; in the gentle breeze that seems to always grace the sanctuary, we hear her whispers of appreciation.

The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary is our daughter’s dream realized—a safe haven of healing and compassion for all beings. In a hurting world, maybe this place will be an instrument of change in the trajectory of someone’s life. Maybe—just maybe—a family celebrating the holidays will not be faced with the reality of which we were faced five years ago. And if we can do that, we have honored Catherine’s message of kindness and acceptance for all.

Jennifer Hubbard is president of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation.

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