The 8th annual CNN Hero Awards were broadcast Sunday, December 7th. This tribute honored the top 10 people across the globe who make extraordinary pursuits to change the world we live in. From conservation efforts to protect African lions, soccer fans building better lives for underprivileged children, to helping kids battle cancer through martial arts, the honorees have all made significant changes in the lives of those in their communities and even those a world away. However, the 2014 prestigious Hero of the Year award was endowed Sunday upon former Royal Marine sergeant, Penn Farthing.
Farthing’s story began while on tour in Afghanistan. Penn and a friend broke up a stray dogfight when unexpectedly, one of the dogs followed him back to his base, and he immediately found comfort, companionship and normalcy amidst the destruction and fighting around him. Farthing went through a long paperwork process to keep the dog, now named Nowzad after the Afghan town he was found, and eventually he was able to bring his best friend home. The emotional bond Nowzad provided Penn inspired Farthing to found the nonprofit Nowzad Dogs. Since 2006, Farthing has helped more than 700 soldiers from eight different countries reunite with the stray dogs that gave them love and hope while serving their country in Afghanistan.
Over the years, dogs have gained increasing notoriety for their ability to help veterans and civilians heal from trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is the result of experiencing life-changing trauma. They are on constant alert, have intense nightmares and unbearable flashbacks that can lead to the development of more mental health disorders such as depression or substance abuse.
While these veterans are embattled in combat, a dog can ease the stress of their daily life. Caring for a pet can reduce stress, get us outdoors and invoke feelings of love, making us feel as if we are not alone. They are constant companions that love unconditionally. For many women with mood disorders, especially those with PTSD, trust is a major issue in relationships with loved ones, but the security a dog provides allows them to relearn trust and heal from their emotional scars.
Science is still researching the role dogs play in healing PTSD, but there is no doubt having that constant companionship can vastly improve our mood and provide tremendous benefits to holistic wellness. In addition to the numerous small-scale studies that show continued connection between PTSD relief and pets, there are countless pet owners who will vouch with their very own personal experience of their four-legged friend’s power to provide stability, peace and unwavering hope during times of emotional distress.