Madison Palm has always known her dog Cora is special. It's why she's having Cora trained and certified as a therapy dog; it's why she always travels with her.
"She is very empathetic and in tune with my needs, yet she is so incredibly independent," Palm told TODAY.
The 23-year-old was still surprised, and deeply moved, by something Cora did when the two were recently flying from their home in Idaho to Alaska to visit Palm's mother.
On a layover at the Seattle airport, Cora approached a man who was sitting by himself near their gate.
"Before I could even call her she was already at his feet being loved on. I asked him if she was bothering him," Palm said. "And with a somber face and watery eyes he said, 'No, no. I lost my dog last night.'"
Cora stayed with the man for a little while. Palm, who lives in Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho, recalls the man scratched behind Cora's ears, petted her and whispered to her about how cute she is. It was a profoundly emotional encounter to witness.
"I truly think she has a gift. She knows who is hurting and she knows who needs her," she said. "Once he told me that his dog passed away I looked at Cora and I thought to myself, 'You are so amazing. How did I get so lucky?'"
This is how: Cora has lived with Palm since last summer. Palm, who is a deputy assessor title clerk at her county's Department of Motor Vehicles, was in the break room at work. A co-worker was browsing Facebook on her phone and told Palm she'd seen a post about a corgi who was killing a family's chickens and was therefore being given away to the first person who came for her.
Palm left work right away to meet the dog. She learned the dog was underfed and had been kept outside for nearly her whole life. She'd had many litters of puppies.
"Cora had never been to a vet," Palm said. "She didn’t have a cute collar or a shiny tag with her name on it. The little food that she received was her owners' scraps, which were thrown into the yard for her."
Palm already had another dog and knew her landlord wouldn't allow two. She'd have to find a new place to live if she took in Cora, but Palm felt she couldn't leave the dog behind.
On the drive home, Cora crawled into Palm's lap "and she never looked back," Palm said.
Cora's ears were infected, her teeth were rotted and the water turned black when she got her first bath. But her personality was, and is, sweet and loving.
"She just wants to be loved on and held all day long," said Palm. "She is always right next to me and always keeps a close eye if she’s not. If I’m not available she’ll pick the next closest lap to sit in."
They found a new place to live. The dogs both like it; they've got a yard.
Cora, who is becoming a therapy dog through the American Kennel Club's canine good citizen program, is a great comfort to Palm. She helps her with anxiety. Palm says Cora "helps me stay calm in chaos."
It had been seven months of feeling amazed by Cora's capacity for forgiveness and for love. Then Cora reached out to this grieving stranger in an airport, and Palm was astonished all over again by this dog, who early in her life wasn't given a lot of reasons to trust or even like humans, but still does.
"I am blown away by her on a daily basis. Who knew a dog who was unloved for 7 1/2 years could have so much love to give?" Palm said. "I can’t change her past but I’m doing everything I can to make up for it."