CNN Hero of the Year Reunites Soldiers with Stray Animals
(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."
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 CNNHeroes.com. 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 CNN.com. 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.