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Why do waiting lists exist in the animal shelter world?

When a pet is surrendered to the shelter, they go through a strenuous intake process and there is limited kennel space.

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Often, I think it is a misconception that shelters will always have space for cats and dogs. No judgement here because most truly don’t know why waiting lists or no drop offs exist.

In our normal day-to-day shelter operations, we usually have a waiting list of at least 50 or more cats. For our dogs, it flows smoothly and generally there is no more than 15 on the list.

We triage our intakes, meaning emergencies will always take priority. Emergencies can include anything from severe upper respiratory infections, parvo cases, car hits, and a few more drastic cases that I will not enter into. We tend to these cats and dogs before we are able to intake others because of limited kennel space and staff.

This leads to the next point: kennel space and intake processes.

When a pet is surrendered to the shelter, they go through a strenuous intake process. Both the dogs and cats have quarantine periods upon arrival; dogs being only seven days after surrender and cats 21 days after surrender.


During quarantine, they receive vaccinations, medical care (spay or neuter, vaccinations, various disease testing, microchips, bathed, dewormed, and more) and owners are given the opportunity to claim within the first seven days, if they are stray animals.

We have limited kennel space. There are only 16 impound cages for the felines, where they are quarantined for 21 days. One bank of cages is reserved for contagious infections, such as ringworm or giardia. You would be surprised at how common these infections are in the area. This means that we can only take eight or so before being full and unable to take in any more non-emergent cases.

We have a separate bank of cages in another room reserved for emergencies, such as bottle babies, broken extremities, upper respiratory infections and other various medical issues.

Let’s not forget the issue of overcrowding in our adoption areas. In order to intake cats, we must adopt them out at the same rate. We have a set limit of only 15 in our adult room and 10 in our kitten room. This helps maintain the peace and quality of life for our feline friends. Our nursery area is reserved for kittens and puppies that are newly born or are in what we call “their growing up period.” This is the time from birth to the age that they are able to be fixed and adopted out.

In the dog area, we have four kennels reserved for the “pound,” where local law enforcement are able to house stray animals that they may pick up on patrol.

During the winter, we lower our dog numbers to around seven. This allows us to complete what we call “a flip.” A flip is where we are able to take the dogs outside and bring them in fairly quickly if it is cold without having to clean their dirty kennels first.

We have four kennels reserved for the quarantine period that the dogs must go through to give time for owners to claim and/or for vaccinations. It is the same process here. Before we can intake a dog, one must be adopted.

To get on the waiting list, please call your local shelter. Don’t show up without first notifying staff. There is no guarantee that we will be able to intake the animal. We will try to microchip scan it and get more details for a surrender request. During your time on the waiting list, please try to rehome the animal via private party and always ask for a rehoming fee. We do suggest you continue to call other shelters (and get on waiting lists if you have to) for optimal success with a placement.


I hope this allows for clarity for those who are unsure of why we cannot take an animal as soon as we would like to. We try our best to appease everyone’s wishes, but unfortunately that is not always possible.

We highly encourage that if you are going to pick up a stray animal, that you have a plan in place with how you will house it, try to find the owner, or if you are able to find placement with a local shelter.

If you are unable to find placement, please house the animal in a location where it is out of the elements (garage, bathroom, porch), and preferably away from pets that you may have in the home. We would hate for them to catch illness from a stray pet in the home.

We are operating by appointment only. For the most up to date cats and dogs, please look at our PetFinder (

To schedule an appointment, please call the staff at the shelter. You will be asked to fill out a pre-adopt consultation form. This helps us get to know what you are looking for and what your household is like.

Speak with your landlord (even family members) before inquiring about adopting, it is in our policy to speak with them first before allowing the animal to go into the home.

Once a pre-adopt is approved, an appointment will be scheduled. You must be 18 years or older to adopt from the Headwaters Animal Shelter.

The cat adoption fee is $161.06, while the dog adoption fee is $214.75.


Our cats are fully vetted; vaccinated, microchipped, fixed, dewormed, tested for giardia/ringworm/FEL/FiV, bathed and dipped in antifungal solutions, flea/tick/mite treatments, and any extra medical treatment that may be required for optimum health.

Our dogs are fully vetted; vaccinated, microchipped, fixed, dewormed, tested for tick and heartworm disease, bathed, flea/tick treatments, and any other medical treatment that may be required for optimum health.

Contact information for area animal shelter organizations

Headwaters Animal Shelter

901 Western Ave. S., Park Rapids


Holly, cat manager,

Lorena, dog manager,

Humane Society of The Lakes

19665 U.S. Hwy. 59, Detroit Lakes


Marshmallow Animal Shelter

1478 Mallard St., Detroit Lakes


Wadena County Humane Society

310 Ash Ave. NW, Wadena


Let Love Live

204 Jefferson St. N, Wadena


Great River Rescue

1612 Carr Lake Rd. SE, Bemidji


Paws and Claws Animal Rescue and Resort

2949 State Hwy. 371, Hackensack


The Babinski Foundation

2825 76th St. SW, Pequot Lakes


Holly Packman is the cat manager for the Headwaters Animal Shelter.

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