Meghan Martin thought she was giving her cherished pit bull, Honey, a final gift: One last thank-you for all the love the dog had shown her.

Turns out, Martin was the one who benefited, but it wasn’t the first time Honey gave as much, or more, than she’d been given.

Martin rescued her from abusive owners and death’s door, then watched as the dog that hadn’t known an ounce of kindness early in her life became as sweet as, well, honey.

The dog helped Martin through a difficult pregnancy, sensing when her blood pressure dropped to dangerous levels and standing between her legs and whining so the woman would sit down before she passed out.

After the cesarean-section delivery, Honey stood by Martin, literally, as the new mother gingerly walked upstairs, hanging on to Honey’s collar for support.

“She has paid me back tenfold for anything I ever did for her,” Martin said. “She’s been the most dedicated companion. For all the times I saved her, she saved me right back.”

But as cancer of the bladder and skin took over Honey’s golden-colored body, and her heart, which was damaged by earlier abuse, continued to fail, Martin found she couldn’t save Honey this time.

Martin made the gut-wrenching decision to give Honey “the gift of peace.” But first, she wanted to spend a day checking off items on a bucket list made for the dog.

On Monday, the two went for a ride and to the park, picked out a favorite dog treat and a last meal and visited Santa.

As the details of their lives gushed out of Martin, who’s 29 and lives in Spotsylvania County with her husband and two sons, she was touched by those who reached out to her and her dying dog.

“It was the most healing day I ever had,” Martin said. “These were strangers, they didn’t know Honey, they didn’t know me, but they were the kindest people I could have met.”

‘A LAST HURRAH’

The two left a trail of tears as they visited stores in downtown Fredericksburg.

Martin told workers at Dog Krazy her story, and a fellow customer offered to go with her to the nearby Olde Towne Butcher Shop to pick out Honey’s last meal.

“It was very touching that someone would step up like that and help out,” said Sabrina Swafford at Dog Krazy. “Everyone’s gone through losing a pet, they’re part of our family. It was emotional, we were all trying hard not to cry.”

Brian Casey, a meat cutter, didn’t succeed. He helped Martin pick out “the nicest ribeye we had” at the butcher shop, then asked to meet Honey.

“I could tell right away, she was sweet as anything,” Casey said. “I just lost it. The length to which her owner was going to to give her a last hurrah, I don’t know, it really spoke to me and how I care for dogs.”

The same day, Martin also talked with her friend, Carrie Putnam about taking photos. Putnam got off work early and beat a path from Stafford County to Loriella Park in Spotsylvania to capture a final portrait of the two.

“They’ve both taken care of each other,” Putnam said, “and they have a bond you rarely see between an animal and a person.”

‘ALL ANIMAL LOVERS’

One of the most emotional parts of the bucket-list day involved Santa Claus.

Martin had called the Santa booth at the Spotsylvania Towne Centre and was told dogs aren’t allowed, except on designated days, because some children are allergic to them.

Laura Poole, manager of the eDI Imaging booth, told Martin to come at the end of the shift when she heard her story.

“It was heart-wrenching,” she said. “I’ve heard every story you can come up with, and you can tell the ones who want to pull a fast one versus stories like this.”

After all the kids in line had been photographed, the workers shut down the booth, and Martin brought Honey to Santa, portrayed by Bill Holmes.

Honey was on painkillers and clearly had trouble getting to Santa’s level in the chair, so Holmes got down on the floor with her. He rubbed her golden ears with his velvety white gloves.

Turns out, this Santa has a pit bull, too, and Martin said the tears streamed down his face as he heard about Honey’s sweetness.

After about 40 minutes, Martin got ready to leave, and Holmes embraced her. It was more than a quick hug, she said; it was a gesture of comfort from one person to another.

The next day, Holmes told a reporter to use any photos or descriptions from the event; just don’t ask him to talk about it because it was too emotional.

Poole spoke for him.

“We’re all animal lovers here, and it really struck a chord.”

‘I’LL FIGHT WITH HER’

Martin was working in a veterinarian’s office in Jacksonville, N.C., eight years ago when workers heard about pit bulls seized from abusive owners.

She’s fostered about a dozen cats and dogs over the years, so she headed to the shelter. She thought she’d rehabilitate one of the dogs and find a good home for it.

In the back of the kennel was the saddest, most emaciated dog ever.

Previous owners kept her chained constantly and had turned the dog Martin came to know as Honey into a puppy-making machine. They also had sewn a wound on her neck with needle and ordinary thread and filed down her teeth to the gums so she couldn’t fight back against the dogs she was confined with.

On top of all that, Honey had a raging case of pneumonia. Vets told Martin the dog wouldn’t live a year.

That was eight years ago, and death has knocked on Honey’s door more than once. Each time, Martin refused to give up on the pit bull.

“I said, ‘If Honey wants to fight, I’ll fight with her,’ ” Martin said.

Honey had her jugular vein nicked by another dog Martin was fostering, and once more, a vet said she should be put down. Another time, Honey had a uterine infection that often is fatal.

When Martin and her husband, Garrett, had two sons—Logan, 4 and Ethan, 2— Honey added them to her circle, though she was clearly Martin’s dog.

“Honey was her first baby, before she had children,” said her friend, Putnam.

HONEY’S LAST GIFT

Honey provided comfort to her best friend after a freak accident in May in which Martin suffered a brain injury. She was rear-ended by a pizza delivery car, and the slight impact caused a concussion that triggered memory problems and the loss of cognitive skills.

Martin is undergoing therapy, and doctors have said she may recover 85 percent of her abilities within two years.

Martin had survived some life-changing events when Honey’s various conditions worsened. As a vet tech, she had been with a lot of pets when they were put down, and she swore she wouldn’t let Honey get to the point she was suffering that much.

She did her bucket-list day on Monday and scheduled her “departure” for later in the month.

But Honey had a bad day on Wednesday, and it was clear her cancer made it difficult to do the most basic functions.

Martin had a veterinarian come to her home Thursday afternoon and put her dog to sleep.

“My heart hurts,” she said, in a text message before the appointment.

Still, she said she was glad others would read about the dog that meant so much to her.

“It’s Honey’s last parting gift to me and the world,” she wrote.

​Cathy Dyson: 540.374-5425 

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