MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When Toni Maat opened Windmill Pet and Feed store 20 years ago it was a natural fit.
“I have always liked working with animals. I worked at pet hospitals from the time I was 16,” she said.
The moment a neighborhood kid brought her abandoned kittens from a barn, she wanted to do more.
The store expanded into what she calls a sanctuary for the town of Elko New Market’s homeless pets — Windmill Animal Rescue.
“This guy is from someone where the kids quit taking care of them,” said Maat showing a bearded dragon, one of the more unusual pets.
Unlike other shelters, cats and dogs live there cage-free and they all seem to get along.
“They get to have a real life here. Those we don’t place, we don’t euthanize.”
She has helped find homes for more than 2,000 animals.
“I could actually probably make more money if I had a real job but this what I love doing, like I say, it’s my life,” said Maat.
The place has never been a money maker and the past couple of years have been especially tough.
Maat is no longer getting a paycheck and is running her the entire operation on credit cards and money she borrowed from her parents.
“I’m really worried about what we’re going to do in the next few months if some funds don’t come in,” she said.
“It’s a vital service to the community,” said Brian Hong with the Chamber of Commerce.
He says part of the problem is awareness.
“There are people that drive by this every day that think it’s a feed store with cats outside.”
Hong contacted WCCO on Facebook and started an online campaign for donations.
Volunteer Trevor Stewart put together Windmill’s first ever website.
“I would hate to see Windmill close. I have lots of friends like Bo here and I’d be very sad for him too,” said Stewart.
Maat hopes the effort to get the word out brings in enough support to keep the doors open. She’s trying to stay positive but also afraid tough choices may be ahead.
“This is their home for life, and I really don’t know what we’d do with them.”
This Saturday, Windmill Animal Rescue is hosting a fundraiser to help the shelter.
You can bring your pet to get a picture with Mrs. Claus starting at 10 a.m.
They’re asking for a $25 donation and you’ll get a photo and digital copies of the print. For more info click here.
To donate or learn more about Windmill Animal Shelter, click on their website. You can also call the shelter at 952-461-2765.