It was July, and I was traveling to Gainesville, Fla., for a month-long externship in exotic animal care at the University of Florida's veterinary school with my dog, Ramona.
I was thrilled to be staying with a University of Florida student and her husband who lived on a farm and gave me permission to bring my dog.
"What's one more?" she said, after she told me they had five dogs of their own. Ramona, then only 2 years old, was already used to going wherever I went.
It was the summer before my final year of veterinary school, and the trip started off in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia, as I loaded all my stuff and my big, hairy dog into my car and locked up my tiny apartment, already sweating in the hot, oppressively humid air.
This was a serious adventure for both of us - the trip would take two days.
We'd be stopping at a hotel a little more than halfway there that allowed dogs, which I was surprised to find was easy to come by - all I had to do was ask (and leave an extra, refundable deposit on arrival.)
At one point, I stopped at a rest area to use the bathroom.
I had quite a dilemma. It was midday, it was hotter than hot, so humid it was difficult to breathe, AND I had to GO!
Much of my worldly possessions were in the car, not to mention by best friend, who was not allowed to visit the rest room with me, as evidenced by the copious signs stating that pets were unwelcome.
I was utterly alone. I sat for several minutes, wrestling with my options.
I could tie her to a tree, and hope nobody stole her, or worse, let her go.
I could leave the car running with the air conditioner on, and hope nobody stole my car AND my dog.
I could leave Ramona in the car, windows down enough for her to stick her nose out, but not enough to jump out while I ran to the bathroom as fast as I could. I took the last option.
By the time I returned, which was 5 minutes later (I know because I kept looking at my watch, knots in my stomach and palms in a cold sweat for such a hot day) Ramona was very near collapse.
As I opened the door, she hopped out of the car. She was so hot she could not stop panting to drink the water from the cup that I kept sticking under her nose.
It took quite a while for her to be comfortable enough to swallow, let alone accept a drink, and I kept telling her I was sorry over and over again.
A hot car in the summertime in Georgia (or ANYWHERE) is no place for a dog. I knew it, but I took a chance with my dog's life.
Fortunately, she was all right, but if I had dawdled for longer than those 5 minutes, I could certainly have found her in deep peril, if not already dead.
If the situation were to repeat itself, I would have simply taken her with me. If somebody had yelled at me, so what?
The worst they could have done was to kick me out, but not before I used the bathroom!
Besides, with one look at her: leashed, well-behaved and panting like crazy, any normal person would have agreed to allow her to come in where it was cool for a minute, and may have even offered her a fresh drink.
I have seen several cases of heat exhaustion since that time, and each one is dramatic and many, tragic.
One particularly memorable, yet typical, case was that of a dog left in a car, windows open a crack, but not enough to dissipate the rapidly rising oven-like temperatures within.
That dog, a young black Labrador, died before we could begin treatments.
His rectal temperature was higher than 108 degrees F.
At that temperature, very bad things happen to the body.
The brain and kidneys, among other organs, are under tremendous strain, and if these temperatures are sustained, will undergo permanent damage.
Mere minutes can spell the difference between life and death.
If you suspect heat exhaustion is occurring, which is usually characterized in dogs by heavy panting and unwillingness to walk or even stand, try to cool the dog as soon as possible with a quick, whole-body drench in cold water and seek veterinary help immediately.
Dogs are not the only creatures susceptible to heat exhaustion (or heat stroke, as it is sometimes called).
Other animals, particularly furry ones, are just as at-risk.
Cats seldom pant, so when they do, it's pretty serious, and it's best to get them into a cooler area as soon as possible, and to adopt a calm hands-off approach until normal breathing is restored.
Handling a stressed-out, overheated cat is, shall we say, foolish, particularly if they are in full possession of all their natural weapons.
The best way to comfort cats is to talk softly to them while giving them some space.
I am a big advocate of cats riding in carriers in the car - and this topic is only one situation that I use to support my case. If you must leave the car, it is much easier to remove the cat to a cooler area for a few minutes if they are already contained in an acceptable carrier.
With a cat wedged beneath the passenger seat, and refusing to come out, things get a little hairy when you need to leave the vehicle in the blistering heat.
Does this mean I don't travel with my dogs anymore? Heck, no.
My dogs have always loved going places with me and my family.
But, now I'm more careful, usually having a plan to avoid leaving anybody in the hot car.
Being married with children, I rarely travel alone with my dog anymore, and our current dogs, all dachshunds, are small enough to be more acceptable in many places than their much hairier, larger predecessors.
Being older and wiser, I'm also more apt to break a "no pets" rule if needed, but only if the situation is dire, as was the one with Ramona.
Although I deeply love my animals, I feel it's unwise to force them on those who do not share my passion.
Unless, of course, they enter my home.
Then, it's their problem if they don't appreciate a dachshund licking their ankles or a presumptuous pair of huge cats rifling through their belongings.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital.