From helping around the house to keeping her owner out of harm's way, Henna does it all.

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henna, the guide dog of the year with his owner, Meagan
Credit: Courtesy of Meagan Gorsuch

For Meagan Gorsuch, her German shepherd Henna is more than just a guide dog, she's a guardian.

Gorsuch is blind and deaf, a fact that makes Henna's instincts indispensable as she navigates her daily life.

"I struggle with feeling safe when I'm out," Gorsuch tells Daily Paws. "I feel like an easy target for strangers. With Henna I know when I'm being followed because she will flick her ears back multiple times. If it continues she begins to look back and I can plan accordingly."

For the past three years, Henna and Gorsuch have made their way through life together in a partnership that Gorsuch describes as "love at first sight."

"She gave me the biggest greeting by putting her paws on my shoulders and licking my face. It was as if she was saying, 'Hi I belong to you now!' We bonded instantly, and over the past few years it just continued to get stronger."

And in Gorsuch's mind, that bond was truly solidified in an event that occurred last year, and that she outlines in Henna's entry in the American Humane's Hero Dog Awards. Gorsuch says she and Henna were crossing a busy street just like they would any day together. The talented pooch is trained to flick her ear when it's safe to cross, but halfway across the street, Henna began pulling back, alerting Gorsuch to stop.

"When Henna slowed enough for me to take in my surroundings, I could see a large truck was now completing a left turn in front of us. No more than 5 feet away, the trailer wheels rumbled where Henna and I were only moments ago," Gorsuch writes. "To this day, I can still see the trailer's reflective strips in front of me and know that this was only one of many times she saved my life while allowing me freedom."

For Gorsuch—and an unknowable number of people just like her who rely on service animals in their daily lives—that freedom means everything. Whether she's alerting Gorsuch to a package at the door or letting her know when it's safe to cross a street, Henna's training fills in the gaps in Gorsuch's sight and hearing abilities. And when the simple act of stepping outside your door becomes fraught with uncertainty, having the steady, calming presence of a trained service animal is like being handed back the keys to your own life.

"My quality of life would be less [without Henna] than what it is now," Gorsuch explains. "Having multiple disabilities does reduce the confidence I have at times. When I use my cane and listen for traffic I hope for the best. With Henna, I know she will keep me safe."