Faces of No-Kill: Dog survives abuse, lands new home

Neo the dog with his head on the lap of a person in his new home
Neo was rescued from a cruelty case and held as evidence in a shelter for nearly 500 days. Today, he’s a much-loved part of his new family.
By Christina London

It’s a call animal control officer Austin Everett will never forget. He responded to a report of animal abuse at a home in North Little Rock, Arkansas. There, he found a dog who would come to be known as Neo — chained up, badly beaten, and terrified.

This story is a part of our Faces of No-Kill series, highlighting the journey of pets who lost their place to call home. These pets are thriving today thanks to an animal shelter that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every shelter and every community to reach no-kill in 2025, and this story shows why that’s so important.

“I had to lay down in the backyard in the mud for about 20 minutes to get him to finally trust me enough to let me pick him up,” says Austin.

With Neo in his arms and rain pelting down, Austin made his way back to his truck. By this point, both of them were covered in blood. Neither knew it at the time, but this was actually the start of a beautiful friendship and a story of remarkable resilience.

Healing Neo’s body and heart

Neo was rushed to a local vet, where they discovered the extent of his injuries: a shattered leg, fractured skull, punctured lung, multiple gashes, and several broken teeth. His former owner was arrested and charged with animal cruelty. The litigation is still pending.

Meanwhile, Neo’s condition was so severe that he had to stay at the vet clinic for a month to heal from his injuries. Then, once he had the medical all-clear, authorities transferred him to the North Little Rock Animal Shelter. At first, Neo was distrusting of people. This was understandable: The investigation revealed that he had been hit with the handle of an ax.

In addition to items found in the backyard, Neo himself became evidence in the case. The wheels of justice can turn slowly, which meant Neo would be held at the shelter for the long haul.

Turning a corner

As the days went by, this timid pup began to warm up to people, especially his rescuer, Austin.

“I got in the cage with him and finally got him calmed down,” says Austin. “Then we fell in love.”

But Austin wasn’t the only one who became wrapped around Neo’s little paw. Even though the shelter takes in more than 3,100 pets a year, this black-and-white spotted guy was special.

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“All the employees got attached to him in some form or fashion,” says shelter director Adam Tindall.

These staff members provided plenty of treats, toys, and outdoor playtime. Simply put, they treated him like a beloved pet, something Neo wasn’t accustomed to. They watched as he transformed from painfully shy to incredibly affectionate. One of his favorite things was when Austin would carry him around the shelter like a baby (despite the fact that he weighs close to 50 pounds).

Time to say goodbye

When Adam became shelter director, one of his first orders of business was filing an injunction seeking approval to release Neo. After 468 days at the shelter, it finally happened: Neo was free to go to a new home.

With everything he had been through, shelter staff wanted their treasured Neo to get an extra special home. (Austin says he would have adopted Neo in a heartbeat if his home wasn’t already at canine capacity.) So they contacted the Best Friends Pet Resource Center in Bentonville, Arkansas, and asked whether Best Friends would take Neo. “I didn't want that dog to ever fall back into a situation like the one he came from,” says Adam.

Ali Paepke, Best Friends lifesaving programs manager in Northwest Arkansas, said yes.

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It was bittersweet as they packed up Neo’s things — including a card signed by the entire staff — and prepared to say goodbye.

“I will say there were tears shed when he left, and some of them were sad and some of them were happy,” says Austin. “I’m really sad that I don't get to see him anymore, but I'm happy that he's not sitting in a shelter.”

Then Neo was off to the pet resource center.

Neo’s next chapter

Ali was concerned about how Neo would react to a new setting, considering his difficult past. However, her worries melted away when she met him at the pet resource center. Although a bit timid, Neo was sweet, patient, and eager to receive attention.

Neo went for a brief stay in foster care, which provided a safe, calm environment where he could just relax. It was Neo’s first time in a loving home in years, if not his whole life.

Just like everyone else, Neo’s foster caregiver fell in love with him. She posted about him on Facebook, sharing his story and struggles but also singing his praises. It caught the attention of Bentonville resident Linda Birdsong.

“That really spoke to me that he'd been part of an animal cruelty case. That's just awful,” says Linda. Neo reminded her of Cody, a black-and-white family dog who had passed away from cancer, and she knew she just had to meet him.

Their connection was instant.

“He came right up to us and was very friendly. He wasn't scared or anything,” says Linda. “I could tell immediately that he was going to be a happy dog.”

She decided to officially adopt this dog whose resilient spirit had touched her so much. But Neo’s story didn’t only resonate with Linda. His story was covered by 5NEWS in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and later picked up by media outlets across the country. Neo was inspiring people from coast to coast.

Living the good life

Today, Neo resides in a peaceful and loving home where he never has to worry about being abused again. He is surrounded by adults and children who love him. Linda describes her new best friend as a “well-mannered gentleman” and a “real sweetheart” who always wants attention.

Even though he’s 5 years old, Neo has big puppy energy and loves darting around his big backyard. But after a rousing game of fetch, he’s content to come back in the house and be an inside dog.

“He's got a chair in the living room he's claimed that he can see out the front window,” says Linda. Every time she comes through the door, Neo is right there waiting to greet her.

From abused to beloved

Linda is glad she chose pet adoption and encourages others to do the same.

“You've given an animal a good place to land,” she says. “They bring you so much love and companionship, so why would you not want to?”

As for the team in North Little Rock, they’re on to saving the next pet in need. But they’ll never forget that one speckly dog who transformed before their eyes.

“He affected my life. He's affected everybody else's life up here,” says Austin.

“You get certain animals in an animal shelter that really mean something to you,” says Adam. “Neo is one of those dogs.”

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

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You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

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