CHICAGO — The story of Merit, a sick and emaciated dog found lying in the bushes in Grant Park, has taken a twist. An amazing twist.

“Unbelievable. Never in a million years would I have guessed the outcome would have been as great as it is,” says Sue Naider, president of Trio Animal Foundation, which has overseen Merit’s recovery.

Merit is a 2- or 3-year-old pit bull who was found in the park in May by workers who were setting up for an event. At first, they thought he was dead, but they later were able to get him to eat and drink some water. They put out the word about Merit on social media, and dog rescuer Katie Campbell coaxed him into a cage. She got him to a vet where X-rays showed the presence of sticks and rocks in his stomach — that apparently had been his diet — and an examination found more than 50 ticks in his ear canals. After extensive medical treatment that included subcutaneous fluids, pain medication, antibiotics and medication, Merit recovered.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

But then came the next question: What to do with him? Naider wasn’t sure.

“We were hesitant because sometimes dogs shut down and you can’t bring them back,” she said.

So Merit was introduced to TAF’s nine-dog rehab team, headed by Sophie the pit bull. Through these dogs, animals are able to learn social skills.

“She is 100 percent the reason he was not given up on,” Naider said. “When he met her, he lit up. Whenever we had to work with him, we had Sophie help out.”

It turned out that Merit not only tolerated other dogs, he liked them. As Naider put it in a Facebook posting: “This was a big surprise to us as he was so anti-social in every other situation with people. Merit never showed any signs of aggression toward people but instead liked to be more of a loner. He would wag his tail when he saw you but wasn’t the type of dog that would seek you out for affection.”

Still, there were questions about his personality. He didn’t know how to play with toys. His feelings were easily hurt.

“If you corrected him for doing something — like if he went to mark something — if you corrected him he’d feel bad the rest of the day. He’d keep his tail between his legs.

“I think he was a loner dog who never had anything in his life. He had to be taught to be a dog again.”

The next step was to turn Merit over to trainer Emily Stoddard of Canine Sports Dog Training. She worked with him for a week and offered her assessment. She said that she trusted him in every situation but that he was the type of dog that just wanted to watch from the sidelines and not socialize the way that most dogs would.

That’s hardly the type of endorsement that will get people clamoring to fill out adoption forms. But TAF decided to take a shot. He was listed, and almost immediately a woman got in touch.

A single mom, her 10-year-old son has Down syndrome. At 6 he was diagnosed with autism and around the same time stopped speaking. The woman was looking for a companion for the boy, who does not like to be around people. She thought the loner dog might be the answer and came to visit Merit.

“He cowered (when he saw her). He wasn’t affectionate,” Naider said. “Most people would be put off by that. But she just saw something special in him. She said, ‘I want him to meet my son.'”

Recently, they did just that at the family’s home.

Merit, so timid among strangers, walked in the front door and saw the boy sitting on a couch.

“He wouldn’t make eye contact and wanted to be left alone,” Naider said of the child. “But he walked up to Merit and gave him a kiss on the face.”

The two sat together, the boy petting Merit and putting his arms around him. The bond was formed.

“There literally wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” Naider said. “We’ve never seen anything like it.

“When we left, he couldn’t have cared less. Sometimes you feel guilty about leaving them (with a new family). But he was, like, ‘See ya. I found my home.’

“You have a dog who doesn’t like to be around people and a little boy who feels the same way. It’s a match made in heaven.”

© 2015 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.