Jenny and Matthew Hubbard and their son Freddy are traveling to New York City Thursday, November 21, to accept the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year Award, presented in memoriam to their daughter Catherine Violet Hubbard, who died 12/14 at the Sandy Hook School. The Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year Award is one of several ASPCA Humane Awards that will be given out at the November 21 luncheon, and is dedicated to the 9-year-old boy who died trying to save his pet dog and lizard in a 2007 house fire.
The award is presented each year to a child who shows extraordinary compassion toward animals, and Catherine, said her mother, had always been an advocate for creatures great and small, whispering to them, “Tell your friends I am kind.”
Animal Center of Newtown Vice President Harmony Verna was contacted last winter and asked to nominate Catherine for the award, said Jenny Hubbard, and when the Hubbards okayed the suggestion, “We kind of forgot about it,” she said. She was surprised when she received a call from the CEO of ASPCA in the spring.
“He said that the ASPCA would be honored if they could honor Catherine with this award. Really,” Ms Hubbard said, “the honor is ours. That recognition is a total validation of Catherine’s life.”
The family has questioned at times, where to draw the line between honoring 6-year-old Catherine and going too far. “But we believe we are not crossing the line, in so many ways, on accepting this award,” she said. An associate of Mr Hubbard’s used to save and collect ASPCA and other animal-related organizations’ paraphernalia that she received for donating. “Miss Paula would pack it up and give it to Catherine, and she’d go crazy for it. Matt always says nothing is coincidental. Getting recognition from the ASPCA speaks volumes to what we want to do,” Ms Hubbard said.
The Hubbard Animal Sanctuary
What the Hubbards want to do is to create the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, a place where homeless dogs, cats, and farm animals can find a place to be respected, recover, and be loved. It has been their goal since shortly after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School took the life of their daughter, and the family directed donations to a favorite charity, the Animal Center of Newtown, a fostering and adoption service for cats and dogs. The donations swiftly mounted into the thousands of dollars, though, and the Hubbards began working with the Animal Center to develop the best way to utilize the funds and honor Catherine.
Now, 11 months since the loss of Catherine, the Hubbards and the Animal Center have created a vision that they hope they can soon bring to fruition.
“We are in the process of pursuing multiple leads for land,” said Animal Center President Monica Roberto. “Out goal is to find about 10 to 30 acres of land that can be donated to the Catherine Hubbard Foundation,” she said. The acreage has been scaled back since winter, when initial dreams were of a sanctuary five times that size.
“As innocent and pure as the sanctuary is,” said Ms Hubbard, “there is money involved. The worst thing we could do, we realized, was to have a beautiful piece of land and not be able to properly care for it.”
Pete Paulos and Phil Hubbard (no relation) of PH Architects in Newtown have worked pro bono with the Hubbards and the Animal Center to develop conceptual drawings of the sanctuary, based on input from the Hubbard family and the needs of the Animal Center, which currently does not have a brick and mortar presence.
“A few of us have gone out and seen other sanctuaries,” Ms Roberto said. “We looked at how other sanctuaries were laid out and the programs they offered. This sanctuary vision is unique to Catherine, though. We hope,” she said, “it will become a model for other sanctuaries.”
“One piece of property, which I love, keeps coming up in our search,” Ms Hubbard said. “It’s state-owned land at Fairfield Hills, but there’s a lot of red tape right now with the property, and a lot of people like this property for a lot of reasons.”
The drawings provided by PH Architects utilize that property, Ms Roberto said. “But these are just concept drawings, to get our heads around the key elements for the sanctuary,” she said.
The architectural team used five themes when putting the drawings together, Ms Roberto said. First, was the theme of Community, which will be emphasized through community gardens on the property that welcome residents to be a part of the active sanctuary. Education and Nature are two more themes, and Sanctuary is another. The team sees “Sanctuary” as being actualized not only in the dog and cat care areas, but also in the Welcome Center. Bridge is the fifth theme, one that is important, Ms Hubbard said.
“It’s important to us that when people transition onto the sanctuary property, that they feel the peace,” she said.
“Pete Paulos and Phil Hubbard have really captured the essence of Catherine [in these conceptual drawings]. We tried to stay focused on the innocence of compassion and care, and they’ve really captured her spirit,” said Ms Hubbard.
A Link To The Natural World
Because Catherine was enamored of animals and their environments, the natural world is vital to the sanctuary. They see a water element — a pond, stream, or lake — as essential to the property they acquire. “Beautiful gardens were talked about, and definitely, walking trails,” Ms Hubbard said, will be incorporated into the sanctuary. A butterfly garden to attract and sustain butterflies and other useful insects is envisioned, “And tucked away, in a manner that is so ‘Catherine,’ will be the memorial garden. It will be a discovery, off a trail, not an ‘in your face’ sort of memorial,” she said. A secret garden filled with purple flowers and with a whimsical theme are what Ms Hubbard pictures, when she thinks about the memorial garden.
A Welcome Center incorporating a retail store, a children’s library, a commercial kitchen, and meeting rooms and office space will be the first stop for visitors to the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary. An adjacent building will accommodate an animal care area for intake procedures and wellness exams. It is hoped that community veterinarians will help staff the wellness center.
Whatever piece of property it is that comes into their possession, Ms Hubbard said that she wants the Welcome Center facility to be built on the highest point, where it can overlook the entire sanctuary.
An outdoor amphitheater for learning activities and gatherings, and an education center, or “learning barn,” as they like to call it, that opens up to the environment will be on the property.
“It’s humbling, the outreach we’ve received about this project,” Ms Hubbard said, sharing that famous anthropologist and primatologist Jane Goodall had reached out, saying she would happily assist with the programming.
The Hubbards and Animal Center staff are eager to incorporate community gardens into the plan. “We would love to give people the opportunity to grow food, and it could include Farm to Table kinds of classes, using the commercial kitchen to teach people make the best use of the produce they grow,” Ms Hubbard said. The gardens could also provide food for animals housed in the sanctuary.
Tree houses would allow a bird’s eye view of the sanctuary. “We were walking the property,” Ms Hubbard said, “and thought, how cool would it be if a club wanted to meet up there in tree houses?”
A Home For Animals
Not the least of the plans are those for living areas for animals. “The dogs and cats would not be in cages, but in free, open spaces in fenced areas. We want to be sure we provide a ‘home’ for the animals,” Ms Roberto said. The group home-style housing for these animals would be designed to look like the other buildings on the properties, to avoid any public eyesores, she said. Each of the dog and cat areas would have an adoption area, where potential owners could meet the animals.
The neediest cases of homeless farm animals would also find respite at the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, as would animals with special needs.
Building the sanctuary would be in phases, with the Welcome Center and feline and canine care centers having priority. Trails and gardens would be a close second. “Our hope is,” Ms Roberto said, “that as we develop plans, a company might come in and sponsor a phase or an area.”
The Hubbards and the Animal Center will share the drawings with town commissions in December, said Ms Hubbard. “We have the support from [First Selectman] Pat Llodra, who has seen the drawings, and the town has been helping us in our property search,” she said.
When the idea for the sanctuary first came to mind, Ms Hubbard was hopeful that land would be found by June, and that the family could celebrate what would have been Catherine’s seventh birthday on the property. She is grateful now, she said, that things did not move forward so swiftly. “Eight months ago, we could have jumped right into this and rationalized the busyness of it all. We’ve had breathing space, and I realize that we needed this time. It has allowed us to heal, and get the sanctuary to a place where we’re so proud of what it will be,” she said.
“When we’re supposed to have the land, we’ll have the land, and it will be the right time,” Ms Hubbard added.
Ms Roberto, as well as Ms Verna and her husband, Jay, will attend the awards luncheon with the Hubbard family. When the Hubbards arrive at the ASPCA Humane Awards luncheon, they will bring with them the drawings. “I’m curious what the reaction will be,” Ms Hubbard wondered, “because for our family, and everyone who has seen the drawings, it brings tears. It brings tears,” she said “to think this is all because of a 6-year-old.”