Catherine’s Legacy of Love
by Fran Silverman
When Cynthia Clarke, an engineer from Newtown, Connecticut, was struggling to recover from life-threatening aneurysms, her cat Jasper was by her side. Jasper had been through his own trials, having been found on a road when he was a three-week old kitten with two broken front legs before a shelter took him in and he was adopted by Clarke.
As Clarke lay in her bed with 24-hour nursing care, the attending staff snuggled Jasper next to her so he could hear her heart beat. During recovery when she was still having difficulties with the left side of her body, Clarke said Jasper would tap her mouth or face to wake her up. “She’s my whole world,’’ said Clarke, a self-described workaholic who never thought of herself as a cat lover.
“I’d end up on the street to save her.” Jasper, who is 9, recovered from his earlier injuries and Clarke has as well, but they both have some health issues they still face.
Clarke grapples with migraines and Jasper has a sensitive stomach and needs special food that is expensive. She worried she wouldn’t be able to take proper care of him because of her medical situation. Clarke is not alone in her need for help in caring for her pet.
As pets grow older along with their owners, it can be a struggle to stay together as a family. Seniors who have to go into the hospital or rehab or who struggle financially suffer the anxiety of trying to make sure their pets are cared for properly. And often senior pets in shelters can linger there instead of being adopted out to their forever homes and the elderly who adopt pets of any age face challenges in continuing their care.
But Clarke and others are getting help from Newtown’s Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, which started a program specifically geared toward helping seniors and their pets stay together. The sanctuary was established in honor of Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard’s daughter, Catherine, who at the age of 6 was killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Catherine loved animals and always talked about taking care of them when she grew up.
She even had her own business cards made up for “Catherine’s Animal Shelter” where she was listed as “Care Taker.” Her dog Sammy, a yellow lab, was her constant companion and she would bring rice to a feral cat colony near her home, her mother, Jennifer Hubbard says. After she died, the family asked that donations go to a nearby animal control center.
But by accident, or “divine intervention,” recalls Jennifer, the contributions went to a small cat rescue, which contacted her and asked her what she wanted to do with the $150,000 that they had received in Catherine’s honor.
She met with them and the idea for the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary was born. In 2014, the state of Connecticut gave the Hubbard’s sanctuary 34 acres in the heart of Newtown. The sanctuary’s goal is to provide care, housing and adoption services for companion animals, establish wildlife rescue and release projects for orphaned and injured animals, and care for a limited number of farm animals in need of sanctuary.
The Senior Paw Project grew out of the sanctuary’s focus on honoring the human-animal bond. With the help of the nearby Valley Veterinary Hospital, the sanctuary project provides emergency foster placement when home care is jeopardized because of a senior’s illness or injury; medical and veterinary care for the pet when a senior is financially stressed or can’t get them to appointments on their own; and pet food.
The Senior Paw Project also recruits other seniors to provide foster care for animals in need. Rose West, 90, was the sanctuary’s very first senior citizen to get involved in the project. West had adopted a cat, Midnight, from a shelter.
When Midnight got pneumonia, the vet discovered a tumor on her lung. West was not going to turn her back on Midnight but was having difficulty getting her to the vet every two weeks for treatment of her illness. Midnight dreads the car and the carrier.
“I promised her a forever home,’’ said West, who volunteers at the local senior center when not caring for Midnight.
West’s concerns were alleviated when the Senior Paw Project stepped in. Midnight receives treatment at West’s home from Kelly Coladarci, the sanctuary’s director of animal care and Senior Paw Project coordinator, who on one recent visit, coaxed the black cat out from under the bed for her Prednisone shot.
“So often, seniors who have to go to the hospital or rehab who don’t have family nearby have to surrender their pets,’’ says Coladarci. “Seniors want to go back home where their pets will be waiting.” Jennifer says the sanctuary would like to see the program replicated on a national scale.
“We are all responsible for the wildlife around us and pets we choose to take into our homes,’’ says Jennifer, as she walked through the sanctuary’s open space, which includes a butterfly meadow.
The Senior Paws Project fulfills one major mission of the foundation—fostering compassion and kindness through caring for the envi ronment and all its creatures.
“If Catherine had graced the earth for more than six years, I do know for certain her work as an adult would have been focused on caring for animals,’’ Jennifer says. “She is kindred spirits of people who love animals. Those are her people.”