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Safety net

While she's always had a soft spot in her heart for horses, Res-Q-Ranch director Linda Marsh still does a double take after a year at the helm when she realizes how much of a safety net she provides for abused and neglected equines on her Sams Valley ranch.

Relocating from Northern California in 2002, Marsh and her husband, Lou, moved onto 42 acres to enjoy the countryside and have animals of their own. After a handful of years serving on the board of directors for the 20-year-old nonprofit, Marsh says the new role seems to fit like a well-worn pair of riding boots.

Having already provided space for rescued horses on their property for founder and former director Michelle Thomas, who moved to Bend in 2010, Marsh agreed that seeing Res-Q-Ranch close would be harder than taking the reins and moving the operation from its original home along Highway 234.

Named director in January 2011, Marsh moved a half-dozen horses onto her property to start. She now plays host to twice as many, along with a slew of dogs, felines and a near-white donkey named Casper.

"Even on moving day, we had extra cats show up — a litter of kittens who barely had their eyes open," Marsh says with a laugh. "My husband couldn't believe it started happening so fast."

On a recent afternoon at the ranch, a sturdy paint yearling named Sky greets visitors while Amigo, a 23-year-old Appaloosa, nuzzles Marsh's hand. Attacked by cougars four months ago, the pair nearly are healed.

"You could see where the paw print was on (Sky's) neck from the cougar attack. And they both were already thin because a lot of horse owners are having a hard ... time feeding their animals," Marsh says.

"These two came in together. We didn't realize how attached they were to each other, but we've got to get them adopted out, so it's unlikely they'll go together. They'll both make nice horses for someone, though."

Slightly downhill from the pair's pen, a Shetland pony cross hustles in front of an old, gray gelding to be first in line for potential treats.

"When he got here, and we fed him for the first time, he started shaking like he thought he was going to get beat," Marsh says of the gray. "He's come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Although the bills often are high and outside support fluctuates, Marsh says the tales of healing and perseverance keep the operation moving forward. Humorous stories about the work of keeping the ranch together and the antics of its many residents make the work almost fun.

Almost as if on cue, a bay-colored gelding in a pen alongside Marsh's driveway startles as a rescued, lop-eared dog meanders along the fence line wearing a cone around his neck.

The horse, dubbed Red, whinnies and stumbles away from the offending canine as his two pen mates share his confusion.

"None of the horses know what to do with the dog wearing that contraption around its neck," Marsh says of the pooch recently treated by a vet. Both the dog and the old, red horse, Marsh says, are coming along fine.

"Red is doing good. When we got him, he was so thin his skin was stuck to his bones. It looked like leather, and there were actually people still riding him," she points out.

Volunteer Denise Ramirez, lead trainer for the horses at Res-Q-Ranch, says stories like those of Sky, Amigo and Red make the long hours worthwhile. She points out that much thought goes into pairing horses with their new human families to ensure long-term placement.

"It feels really good when we see that a horse we've adopted out really connects with the person who adopted it," Ramirez says.

Chloe Ellis, manager at Rainey's Corner and a big supporter of Marsh, says the rescue operation provides a needed service for animals from around the region.

"She pulls in animals from all over the area, so that's really a sign of how important it is and how much it's needed," Ellis says.

"With Linda, so many animals are adopted out instead of being retained," she adds. "They work really hard over there to make sure and rehabilitate the horses, so that they are adoptable and not permanently in a sanctuary or rescue situation."

While Marsh says she never could have imagined running a rescue organization, she now can't imagine doing anything else.

"This is my favorite place in the world. I absolutely love what we're doing here."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Linda Marsh gets a kiss from PJ at Res-Q-Ranch. - Photos by Andy Atkinson