By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Michelle Feldstein was prepared to provide special accommodations for the blind horse she recently added to the assortment of flightless ducks, clawless cats and homeless llamas inhabiting her animal shelter in Montana.
But nothing could prepare Feldstein, a 19-year veteran at accepting unwanted pets and livestock, for the 40-legged, seeing-eye entourage that accompanied "Sissy," a sightless, 15-year-old quarter horse.
"Sissy came with five goats and five sheep -- and they take care of her," said Feldstein, the force behind Deer Haven Ranch, a private rescue facility she runs with her husband, Al, on 300 acres north of Yellowstone National Park.
The seeing-eye sheep and guard goats are never far from the white mare, and they never lead her astray. They shepherd Sissy to food and water, and angle the horse into her stall amid blowing snows or driving rains.
"They round her up at feeding time and then move aside to make sure she gets to the hay," Feldstein said. "They show her where the water is and stand between her and the fence to let her know the fence is there."
Before their arrival in February at Deer Haven, a retirement home for creatures ranging from henpecked roosters to abused alpacas, prospects for Sissy and her guide team of 10 were grim.
The animals might have been marked for death had Feldstein not intervened when another rescue facility in western Montana folded this winter.
"I only take animals that others consider throwaways," said Feldstein, 66, whose past professional careers have included race car driver and hospital administrator.
Feldstein and her husband, a retired editor of Mad Magazine, underwrite their rescue operation. It can cost as much as $50,000 a year for feed, veterinarian services, and winter-time heating of barns and water troughs for a total of 200 animals. The couple also run a guest house for humans whose profits are poured into the animal sanctuary.
Times are good for Feldstein, but she has known lean days when her belongings were sold to pay bills. She said her experiences have primed her to understand the plight of animals that now lead charmed lives.
Feldstein said she still marvels at the blind mare and her barnyard attendants.
"There's a magic involved in sheep, goats and a horse becoming best friends," she said. "When you watch them, you have to wonder, why can't people do that?"
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)