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.

Comments (23)
  1. nltr says:

    more power to you folks! perhaps people need to think of it in a different way….the donation is wonderful, the picture is an added bonus. sometimes it is good to do things just for the sake of doing them. the naysayers need to think about how they would feel; not asking to be born, thrown into a cold, desolate winter, no food to count on, no warm lap to sit in, the animals are special, important beings in this world we share. without them, where would we be? since we were the ones to domesticate them and have them depend on us for much of their food and shelter, we have a responsibility to them……lots of love to you all

  2. desert eagle .50 says:

    I’m going there Saturday with a $100 bill. If I can save 1 cat it will be worthwhile. I have 3 cats already so I don’t think I could take on another.

    I hope they can stay in business.

    1. Mickey says:

      That’s the spirit!

  3. Ted W says:

    If the animal shelters would stop importing animals from places like Atlanta, Oklahoma, Texas, etc. then there just may be enough homes for these animals to go to.

    1. Nikki D says:

      Ted, how ignorant are you? This woman doesn’t import any animals, this is a small town rescue. There are plenty of animals here that are abandoned. I’m going to post a link to this on Facebook, so hopefully anyone who can help out will do so. I know I will be sending this lovely person a donation!

      1. Ted says:

        Please expand your knowledge of present facts.
        You will see that the AHS in Golden Vaalley, yes that is in Minnesota, will be importing 800 dogsd this year.
        Now why do you not pose the question the the AHS why then cannot take these animals.
        And don’t forget to make a substantial contribution to these people.

        1. desert eagle .50 says:

          They are “importing” animals from other shelters in areas of low demand to areas of higher demand. These are not from puppy mills.

          Thank you for pointing out. I will be happy to donate to them as well.

  4. desert eagle .50 says:

    I don’t think the shelters do this. Some pet shops do. The shelters get the unwanted and stray animals.

  5. wisconie gal says:

    Having adopted 2 kitties 3 years ago and another a month ago, and knowing first-hand the cost of food and vet care involved for these creatures, Maat asking for a $25.00 donation to help the place continue operating seems reasonable. I think it is in the way that it is phrased that some folks misunderstand. They aren’t buying a photo op. They are donating money to her shelter and getting something back in return for their consideration. Those who know this do so willing. Those who do not, don’t understand the giving/donating aspect.

    1. Laura Suess says:

      I agree with you! I heard about a different photo fundraiser and they were asking $25 too. It’s really not that much. And it goes a long way to help homeless animals.

  6. Kristi says:

    The homeless humans have plenty of government help. Plus they are PEOPLE! They have to at least TRY to help themselves! Too much welfare for humans. Animals, on the other hand, have only the help from kind people, not the government. PLEASE HELP THE ANIMALS THAT NEED US!!!

  7. me says:

    Wow…I hope Scrooge comes back as a cat or another animal of some sort in his next life.

  8. Nick says:

    I have been going to this place since I was a kid, real old school feel to the place with the animals everywhere. I’ll be taking my two dogs there and getting a pic taken. Hope this place can weather the storm.

  9. Animal lover says:

    I wish the shelter all the best and will be sending her a donation.

    Wcco: Since you senser comments it would be nice if you would pull comments from ignorant people or those who insist on posting how to be cruel to animals and people.

  10. Ellen says:

    I’m glad the place is asking for free will donations etc., rather than shopping
    for government handouts!

  11. M says:

    Toni has a heart of gold. She would help anyone out who needed it. Now she is in need, please help her out if you are able. Thanks from a citizen of Elko New Market.

  12. Joyce says:

    I went to school with Toni. Even if you dont opt for the photo opportunity at $25, any donation I’m sure will help. I live in N.C. now but I sent her $10..I support 15 unwanted cats myself on my own on a fixed income. And yes, there is a group called last chance hiway that “imports” animals from shelters in the South to the more industrialized better economy of the north, usually by prearranged adoptions.

  13. Rescue Momma says:

    I agree with “Animal Lover” !!!
    CBS, why aren’t you deleting the moronic comments from the ignorant people here. *gives the stink eye to both Ellen & Kristi* It completely detracts from the beautiful story

  14. Toni Maat says:

    Thank you to all who support the shelter, though donations of funds, supplies or time as volunteers; not to mention reposting and spreading the word. The animals in our care (and those in our care in the future) are very grateful!

  15. Barrier with wooden Base says:

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