On one side of the room, three students are grooming a terrier named Shadow. In the walk-in shower room for larger animals, two students hose down a black Labrador retriever. Other students are attempting to corral and bathe a large black cat. Fluffy the bunny has his cage cleaned and his toenails trimmed.
Gateway Institute of Technology in St. Louis is among a growing number of suburban and urban high schools nationwide offering agricultural and animal science classes. Such classes are also offered at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy in St. Louis among others in the region.
But the focus isn't predominantly on farming.
Instead, schools are increasingly using animal science as a springboard to teach math, biology and chemistry.
Teachers use cats, dogs and guinea pigs as a hands-on way to teach animal physiology and development.
Dalton says that three-fourths of the class at Gateway plan to study to be veterinarians or veterinary technicians in college.
"I feel that specializing in one area, like ours does, will really allow an urban program to grow and be successful," Dalton said. "It doesn't have to be veterinary science. It could be horticulture, biotechnology or food science."
Signs of the trend can be seen as the nation's largest student agricultural organization gains footholds even in urban areas. According to the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, the number of agricultural and animal science classes has been on the rise for a decade, with chapters in 16 of the nation's largest 20 cities and a third of membership coming from outside of rural areas.
Julie Adams, a spokeswoman for the FFA, said the growth of specialized schools such as magnet and charter schools had helped to raise interest in agricultural education.
But she said the relevance of agriculture to core subjects was also a factor.
"Students can have a real hands-on way of understanding math and science," she said. "You have to be able to understand science concepts to know what you're talking about when you're dealing with agriculture."
The class at Gateway, composed of juniors and seniors, covers an introduction to animal health care, ethics in veterinary medicine, careers in animal health and clinic procedures and safety measures.
Dalton has been reworking the curriculum to emphasize anatomy, animal diseases and nutrition, such as avian prenatal development.
Seniors take on internships and spend Tuesdays at sites around the city, including Grant's Farm and the World Aquarium.
"I like taking care of animals," said Ebony Sanders, a senior at Gateway. "I've been wanting to do it since I was little."
Some animals that the class works with belong to students, faculty or friends in the community, who pay a small fee for grooming and pet sitting. In return, people donate cages and other supplies to the class.
But many of the animals at Gateway were rescued. Bailey, a tan-colored dog who is hiding behind Dalton's desk, was found wandering the streets, and Dalton decided to take her into her home.
The larger animals stay with their owners after school. The cats, turtles, mice and smaller animals stay in the kennel room, and students take many of them home over school breaks.
Danielle Lamprich is a freshman at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park hoping to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. But she still comes back to Dalton's class to help out.
Holding Simone, a gray cat who has just had a very unwelcome bath, in a white towel, Lamprich said, "I liked the interactions with the animals, and the responsibilities."
As Dalton's Monday class was wrapping up, the dogs were finally dried off and put in the kennel room.
Simone the cat was detached from a student's shirt and carried back to her cage.
Students swept up bedding and put fresh water in the bottles attached to the box turtle cages before washing their hands and heading into the classroom.
The animals were clean, but the students weren't quite done.
They still had 15 minutes left to talk over their research paper topics on poultry and avian health and worker safety.