It's lunch time on a Friday afternoon and as typical, things are getting a little hectic in the veterinary assistant classroom at Hudson High.
Dogs, it seems, are here, there and everywhere, waiting their turn to be pampered in the classroom bathtub.
There's Buddy, a pint-sized dachshund with a sweet disposition who doesn't seem all that keen about getting his fur wet. And Willow, a big black Newfoundland who's content to simply roll on her back and soak up the affection and the good brushing by Cassie Helmandollar, 18, and Tiffani Spicer, 16. Then there's the rest of the menagerie: seven more breeds of canines, all kept on rather short leashes as they mingle with students and each other among the classroom desks.
"You'll have to excuse me," said Anne Hammer, as she instructed Elizabeth Hill, 17, to take a whimpering Buddy for his turn in the tub. "Fridays can be a little chaotic in here."
Fridays are bath days for these dogs — the pets of faculty members who sign up well in advance to have the senior students and potential veterinarians take on the $15 chore.
It's a brand-new classroom business that offers faculty the service at a reasonable price while giving students some hands-on experience, said Hammer, a 1998 Pasco High graduate who, after nine years of teaching agriculture at Weightman Middle, is starting her first year of teaching the veterinary assisting program at Hudson High.
"The dogs get bathed. They get their ears cleaned, their nails trimmed — the works," she said.
Money raised from the classroom venture goes back into building the program, which is getting a second start of sorts at Hudson High. Students such as Brandi Zimmerman, 16, who has a pet ball python named Timber and a mini rex rabbit named Ollie, can get a taste of the veterinary field before moving on to a secondary program at a community college or perhaps, the University of Florida.
"I've wanted to be a veterinarian ever since I was 6 years old," Brandi said. "So I signed up as soon as I heard about the program here."
"I like it. I just like being with the animals," said Jacklyn Manuel, 16, who was sharing the chore of rabbit detail, filling water bottles and food bins, with Kalyn Limpert, 16.
The veterinary assistant program, now in its sixth year, was housed at Marchman Technical Education Center for five years before being moved to Hudson to make room for other secondary education programs at Marchman. Debra Frelick, a 30-year agriculture teacher who started the program at Marchman, opted not to move with the program and is now teaching science at R.B. Stewart Middle.
No doubt the Hudson program has plenty of room for growth, especially with the loss of so many of Frelick's animals. The Hudson program houses two Holstein dairy cows (one expecting), a newborn calf, a baby bull, a couple of roosters, guinea pigs and a passel of rabbits — many of them rescues — that are kept in cages alongside the cattle in an old, fenced-in athletic field.
"At Marchman we had six or seven llamas, goats, sheep, a goose named Lucy," said Cheyenne McBryan, 17, who as a senior has attended the program at both campuses. "We had a lot of exotics: ferrets, hedgehogs, chinchillas, frogs, fish, a couple of big parrots."
"There's not so many animals here, but we have cows now," said Cheyenne, who plans to show the cows with other students in the county and state fairs and the Strawberry Festival. "The classroom here is bigger and the space is bigger. I think it's been pretty good overall."
"Best of all," she said, "we get to work with animals. We have our regular school for a while, then three (class) periods of this. It's a lot of fun. It certainly gets you through the day faster."