Mercedes ISD starting animal science, dog grooming lab

Ruby the goldendoodle is pampered by her groomer. (TNS Photo)

MERCEDES— Things are going to get a little hairy at the Mercedes school district.

The school board heard a proposal from Career and Technical Education Director Debbie Lee Winslow on Tuesday outlining plans to start an animal science laboratory at the district, with a dog grooming program among the certifications it could offer.

Winslow said the lab would be unique in the Valley.

“This is something that you will not see at any other school district,” she said.

According to Winslow, her CTE budget would cover converting a currently vacant farmhouse at the district’s ag farm into the lab.

The total price for the conversion is estimated to cost less than $10,000. Superintendent Carolyn Mendiola said the lab could soon help pay for itself because of funding tied to enrollment and licensing.

“We’re excited about offering this opportunity for our students,” she said. “More than anything, this is real-world, real-life experience for our students, and the fact that they can learn licenses and certifications in different areas of animal science and go out into the workforce … we’re just excited about it. We’re excited about this opportunity.”

“The facility will include a large lecture room, a poultry incubation room, bathrooms, a dog grooming lab and a food processing lab, with little stalls for livestock out back, stalls that could hold a goat or a lamb.

“Just so kids can see how to take the blood pressure, how to get the heartbeat, how to know how to clean out the glands,” Winslow said. “You know, do all the things that we need to know how to do and have a hands-on lab.”

The building will require upgraded lighting, an industrial sink and fire alarms, Winslow said. It’ll also need a whiteboard, projector, six microscopes, kitchen appliances, a dog grooming tub, dog cages and veterinary/safety equipment.

The district won’t have to buy dog grooming equipment; Winslow’s donating it herself.

Students who study at the lab could earn certifications as veterinary technicians, in food safety and science certification, meat evaluation, veterinarian medical application and dog grooming.

Dog grooming was the focus of most of Monday’s discussion.

“We were thinking that we could have a day where we do the bath and dip, and nails and glands cleanout,” Winslow said. “So the kids could learn how to do all this. You know, like maybe every Tuesday, open up to the community where the community could come in and bring their dogs and stuff.”

The program drew support from trustees.

“This is fantastic, because you know not everybody’s going to go to college, not everybody’s going to university,” Trustee Oscar Hernandez said. “But this is a great pathway.”

The dog grooming proposal in particular drew praise.

“We have quite a few dogs, and every time we take them to the groomers or a regular checkup, it is outrageous,” Trustee Lucy Delgado said. “It’s crazy. So there’s a specialty there, definitely.”

Delgado did express a touch of concern over students working with people’s pets.

“I’m just concerned about the safety— of course, you know…those kids will have a passion for it and they’ll know how to handle a dog or a cat or whatever,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll be extra careful, but precautions would be great.”

Vaccinations would be required for dogs at the facility and they would have to be clear of

“And of course we would ask that they not bite,” Winslow said.

Although Winslow said the lab could be ready in as soon as six weeks, Mendiola said it’s unlikely to open any time before next semester.