Susan McGrath was driving into a McDonald’s one recent Sunday morning — a regular part of her routine — when she spotted something out of the ordinary: a man, who appeared to be homeless, accompanied by a dog.
Speaking to the Asbury Park Press, McGrath said she bought the man, clad in a flannel jacket, and his pet half a dozen breakfast sandwiches. When she drove around to give them to Dustin Maggard and his dog, Surfer Baby, he began to cry.
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Maggard and Surfer Baby came to Berkeley Township, New Jersey, from Florida in the summer of 2020 in hopes of being reunited with his teenage son and the boy’s mother. Things didn’t work out, though, and Maggard was kicked out of the house Jan. 8.
The proverbial fences he was hoping to mend just kept falling apart.
In 2014, Maggard’s then-fiancée Ashley Wilson died in a tragic car accident, catapulting the now-42-year-old man into a despairing depression. In fact, that’s how he ended up with Surfer Baby, a then-puppy gifted to him eight years ago by friends hoping she would help him through the mourning process.
“She saved my life,” Maggard said of his four-legged companion. “Losing my fiancée, it crushed me. I was drinking myself to death. I never would have survived. Now I couldn’t imagine my life without [Surfer Baby].”
While no police report was filed, Maggard was reportedly kicked out of the house over a domestic dispute, which resulted in a temporary restraining order being issued against him.
And that’s part of the reason why he ended up sleeping on the streets behind a strip mall.
The man said police officers in Berkeley Township tried to find a shelter for him, but none would accommodate Surfer Baby.
“There’s no way I’ll ever give her up,” he said of his pup. “I was on the verge of hypothermia, but there was no way I was giving up this dog.”
Then came a good Samaritan
Soon thereafter, Maggard met McGrath.
The good Samaritan took to Facebook to share her newfound friend’s story. Then, after the Asbury Park Press shared the details of their encounter, McGrath’s email was flooded with other kind-hearted people eager to help out.
In total, McGrath received 200 emails that resulted in $3,000 going to help Maggard and Surfer Baby.
“There’s good people out there,” McGrath said. “People are still reaching out. We raised enough money for him, and I told people to donate to either a homeless shelter or a dog shelter.”
Maggard and Surfer Baby stayed in a motel room for a week before McGrath rented a car for them, and they traveled to Tennessee to start fresh.
Although Maggard has tested positive for COVID-19, he is recovering fine and his symptoms are mild. As soon as he’s back to full health, he’s planning on beginning some of the job interviews he’s already lined up with local warehouses and stores.
He also plans to pay McGrath back for the rental.
Looking back, Maggard credits the kindness of strangers for motivating him to turn his life around.
“In that situation, it is very easy to allow yourself to get angry, which will just spiral everything downward,” he said. “There was so much support. I haven’t had a bit of anger.”
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