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Newtown animal sanctuary helps seniors care for their pets

Catherine Violet Hubbard died in 2012. Her mother started an animal sanctuary in her honor.
Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary
Catherine Violet Hubbard died in 2012. Her mother started an animal sanctuary in her honor.

Jenny Hubbard’s daughter Catherine was six years old, with bright red hair and a peaceful demeanor.

“She had this gentle spirit about her that she just seemed to connect with animals," Jenny said.

Catherine died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, along with 19 other children and six educators. She left behind a 13-year-old yellow lab named Sammy.

“[Sammy] had arthritis, and she really had a hard time moving, but Catherine would inspire her to get up and move around," Jenny said. "When Catherine died, Sammy died shortly thereafter.”

Later, while traveling in Ithaca, New York, Jenny saw another yellow lab — one that had been given up by a family who couldn’t afford it.

“And when we saw the lab, we were heartbroken," she said. "Because, you know, we thought of Sammy, and we thought of this pet that probably didn't need to be surrendered if the right support had been in place.”

Jenny runs the Catherine Violet Hubbard Sanctuary, named in honor of her daughter after she died. And the thought of those dogs inspired her to lead the sanctuary to take on a new project.

“We discovered that sadly, a lot of older adults, their pet is their only companion," she says. "For many, their day to day interaction is limited to their pet.”

But pets can be expensive — especially for seniors on fixed incomes.

“So we decided that it was a great opportunity for us to help those folks that were at risk of surrendering their pet or compromising their own health or their pet's health that we could step in and provide basic veterinary care," she said.

It’s called the Senior Paw Project. Jenny said it’s helped keep nearly 300 pets fed and happy since it started four years ago.

“They all say that they're their best friends, that they're the 'people' that they talk to during the day," said Chris Barrett, manager for the Senior Paw Project. "It’s just companionship.”

Chris said it’s been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many seniors felt even more isolated.

“It creates a schedule for people who might not otherwise have a reason to have a schedule," he said. "So it gives them some rhythm to their lives in terms of walking the dogs, feeding them, just getting them out and about.”

Originally, the sanctuary was working with brick-and-mortar veterinarians, Chris said. But they found lots of seniors didn’t have transportation — or had mobility issues that kept them homebound. So they started working with a mobile veterinarian — And Dr. Nicole Sabo does house calls.

“We're able to go do most of the same stuff you get done at a regular veterinary clinic — vaccines, exam, bloodwork, and all that done in the comfort of home," Sabo said. "And so that way, the owner doesn't have to worry about transporting pets, and it's also less stressful for the pet too. So it kind of helps everybody.”

Dr. Sabo said it makes a big difference in seniors’ lives to have not just a constant companion — but also a mobile service to help them care for their companion.

“You can see that this changes some people's lives because they have this deep worry," she said. "'You know, I love my animal. What am I supposed to do to care for them? How am I supposed to get them to the vet?' and then they feel this deep guilt. And so now being able to say 'hey, no, we have a solution for you. That's nothing you have to worry about anymore. We're here to help.' I mean, you could just see the relief on their faces.”

Jenny Hubbard said the Senior Paw Project is part of a bigger mission —to push the sanctuary beyond its grounds in the middle of Newtown and to spread Catherine’s love of connecting with animals across Connecticut.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.