CNN Hero of the Year reunites soldiers with stray animals

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He reunites troops with overseas dogs
03:12 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The 2014 CNN Hero of the Year is Pen Farthing, founder of Nowzad Dogs

Nowzad, named after the dog Farthing adopted in Afghanistan, reunites soldiers with strays

Farthing: "I know that the dog I looked after was my saving grace from the stress of conflict"

CNN  — 

Pen Farthing, who founded a nonprofit that reunites soldiers with stray dogs and cats they took in during combat, is the 2014 CNN Hero of the Year.

“There is no stronger bond between man and dog than that formed during war,” Farthing said at the annual tribute show, which aired Sunday night on CNN’s global networks.

The star-studded event, held in New York at the American Museum of Natural History, honored the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2014 – everyday people making extraordinary efforts to change the world. Of those 10, CNN’s audience voted Farthing as the Hero of the Year.

“Wow, I am absolutely at a loss for words,” Farthing said as he accepted the award. “This is absolutely amazing. I would really like to thank everybody who voted for the Nowzad charity and what we do in Afghanistan and believing in us. And I would also like to thank all the other heroes in this room for doing what they do to make this world an absolute better place. Thank you guys for doing what you do. Thank you.”

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2014 CNN Hero of the Year: Pen Farthing
01:17 - Source: CNN

In addition to the $25,000 that each person receives for making the Top 10, Farthing will be awarded $100,000 for his cause.

The inspiration for Nowzad Dogs came in 2006.

When Farthing helped break up a dogfight in the town of Nowzad, Afghanistan, the Royal Marine sergeant didn’t think much of it. The war-torn town was overrun with dogs.

But when one of those dogs followed him back to base, it was hard to tell who rescued whom.

“As the troop sergeant, I was there to motivate the guys and get them fired up again to go out and do the job. … But no one was doing that for me,” Farthing said earlier this year. “My time with this dog was a way of de-stressing, collecting my thoughts and popping my head back in the game.”

After his tour ended, Farthing went through a difficult process to get Nowzad home to Britain. Realizing he wasn’t the only one, he soon founded Nowzad Dogs to help other soldiers whose lives were turned around by the animals they befriended.

Nowzad Dogs also works to promote animal welfare in Afghanistan.

The group’s shelter and clinic in Kabul are staffed by 14 Afghan nationals, four of whom are trained veterinarians. The group spays and neuters street dogs and cats and vaccinates them against rabies to reduce the stray animal population. In turn, those efforts help protect residents by having fewer rabid animals roaming the streets.

To date, Nowzad Dogs has reunited nearly 700 soldiers with the animals they adopted in Afghanistan.

“I know that the dog I looked after was my saving grace from the stress of conflict,” Farthing said. “And because of that initial bond, the work goes on: reuniting soldiers with their companions, tackling rabies and training veterinarians in Kabul. I would like to thank everybody for their support. We’re making a difference for the Afghan people, the soldiers and one dog and cat at a time.”

Celebrity presenters at the tribute show this year included actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Christina Hendricks, Taye Diggs, Rosie Perez, Uzo Aduba and John Leguizamo. Also appearing were comedian Kathy Griffin, musician Questlove of The Roots, Kelly Ripa of “Live with Kelly and Michael” and Morgan Spurlock of CNN’s “Inside Man.”

The event included musical performances by Sheryl Crow and Trisha Yearwood. Yearwood performed her latest song, “PrizeFighter,” while Crow performed “Wide River to Cross” with CNN Hero Arthur Bloom and his MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band.

Musician Nick Jonas, actor Tyler James Williams and actress Quvenzhane Wallis were also on hand to present awards to remarkable “young wonders” who are doing their part to help change their communities.

The stories of this year’s Top 10 Heroes, who were nominated by CNN’s global audience and profiled earlier this year on CNN, can be found at Through Amazon Payments, anyone who wants to contribute can make a direct charitable donation to a Hero’s designated nonprofit until December 31.

Since 2007, the CNN Heroes campaign has profiled more than 200 people on CNN and It has also received more than 50,000 nominations from more than 100 countries.

As part of their award package, each of the Top 10 CNN Heroes will also receive organizational training through the Annenberg Foundation, a global supporter of nonprofit organizations. All 10 Heroes will participate in customized versions of the Annenberg Alchemy program, tailored to help grow their individual organizations.

Here are the rest of this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes listed in alphabetical order:

Arthur Bloom
Arthur Bloom has used the healing power of music to help hundreds of injured soldiers recover their lives. His program, MusiCorps, pairs professional musicians with troops recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, helping them play instruments and write and record music. “By injecting music into this space, we can inject life,” Bloom said. “There’s nothing injured about the way they do it. It’s just good music.” More: How the healing power of music helps wounded warriors

Jon Burns
Jon Burns is rallying fellow soccer fans to help children from poor communities in cities hosting the World Cup and other major tournaments. Since 2006, his nonprofit, Lionsraw, has engaged more than 500 volunteers in construction projects and educational programs that have benefited nearly 6,000 children. “We’re trying to harness the passion of football fans to make a difference,” he said. More: Turning soccer fans into an army for good

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg
Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg lost his 2-year-old daughter to leukemia in 1981. Today, his nonprofit, Kids Kicking Cancer, uses martial arts to help children battling serious illnesses manage pain during medical treatments. The group has provided free lessons and support for 5,000 children and their families. “They’re often so afraid,” Goldberg said. “We teach kids how to control their pain and make them feel powerful.” More: Helping kids kick the pain and fear out of cancer

Leela Hazzah
Leela Hazzah has dedicated her life to lion conservation. In 2007, she started Lion Guardians, a nonprofit that works with African Maasai warriors to protect lions. The group now employs more than 70 Lion Guardians throughout East Africa and has helped the lion population grow. “I know we’re making a difference,” Hazzah said. “When I first moved here, I never heard lions roaring. But now I hear lions roaring all the time.” More: Transforming lion killers into ‘Lion Guardians’

Patricia Kelly
Patricia Kelly is using horses to motivate at-risk children in Hartford, Connecticut. Her nonprofit, Ebony Horsewomen, provides horseback riding lessons and teaches animal science to more than 300 young people a year. “We use horses as a hook to create pride, esteem and healing,” said Kelly. “They learn that they have ability. They just have to unlock it.” More: Cowgirl uses horses to motivate at-risk kids

Annette March-Grier
Annette March-Grier grew up in her family’s funeral home. After her mother’s death, she created Roberta’s House, a nonprofit in Baltimore that helps children and their families cope with grief. Since 2008, more than 1,000 children have benefited from the group’s free programs. “We’re giving families in this city a sense of hope,” she said. “We’re helping to heal wounds and bring families back together again.” More: Helping Baltimore’s grieving kids heal

Ned Norton
For the last 25 years, Ned Norton has provided strength and conditioning training to people living with a variety of disabilities. He now trains more than 120 people every week through his nonprofit, Warriors on Wheels. “I’m building them up, building them stronger, so they can go out and live life like they’re supposed to.” Norton said. More: Fitness buff helps disabled find ‘strength’

Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes
Amid the violence in his native Guatemala, Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes turned his family’s home into a haven for young people. Since 2006, his nonprofit, Los Patojos (the Little Ones), has provided educational opportunities and support to more than 1,000 children. I want to inspire these kids,” he said. “They are the ones in charge of writing the new history in Guatemala.” More: Building a brighter future for Guatemala’s kids

Dr. Wendy Ross
Dr. Wendy Ross is opening new worlds to autistic children and their families. Since 2010, her nonprofit, Autism Inclusion Resources, has helped hundreds of families navigate challenging social situations, such as sporting events and airport travel. “If you start taking steps outside of your door, your world gets bigger and bigger,” said Ross. “We just want people to have opportunities.” More: Taking autistic kids out to a ball game

CNN’s Meghan Dunn contributed to this report.