Bonnie Buck - the animal massage therapist

June 2022

If you have a horse, dog or cat, you more than likely know or have heard of Bonnie Buck. Bonnie is an animal massage therapist who has been practicing in Thunder Bay for over twenty years and is appreciated by animal owners when it comes to providing pain relief for their furry friends.

I first met Bonnie when she visited my farm a couple years ago to work on my friend’s horse, River. River had been injured in his youth and as old age caught up to him, the muscles in his left hindquarter began to deteriorate. He had a slight limp and couldn’t be ridden. He was miserable when I went out for rides on my horse and couldn’t tag along.

Then Bonnie came and worked her magic. Within an hour of massage, the change was amazing. River’s limp was hardly noticeable and I’m sure I saw a smile on his grey muzzle.

I thought: this is wonderful.

Bonnie’s initial two years of training covered anatomy, physiology, pathology, massage therapy, saddle & tack fitting, applied kinesiology, nutrition, structural assessment, balance and treatment of injuries, as well as health related issues. She notes that the course is very comparable to the massage therapy course for humans – with some obvious differences. Bonnie also studied cranial sacral assessment and balance, myofascial release, acupressure, essential oil and herbal use, and kinesiology taping. She is also an Animal Reiki Master and uses this form of energy medicine to improve the flow of energy around the body to promote relaxation, relieve pain, and speed healing. “If it helps animals, I will study it and add it to my practice,” Bonnie says. “I want to do whatever it takes to help my fur friends.”

Bonnie’s first client in Thunder Bay was Spike, a two-thousand pound, seventeen hands high Belgium horse who had a mishap with a tree and injured the soft tissue in his back leg area. While Spike was “all business” when it came to his job driving wagons for his owner, Luke Farmer, he was a total marshmallow whenever Bonnie came to work on him. “He became a soft push-over whenever I massaged him,” Bonnie says. “And when he saw me come into the barn, he was so relaxed, knowing he was in for a treat.” He soon became Bonnie’s best friend.

Shortly after her first visit, Spike’s partner, Charlie, developed a nerve issue from a soft tissue injury that caused some back and leg pain. Every time for years, up until the day he passed away, Charlie would lift his back leg when he saw or even heard Bonnie’s voice. “There is something special about helping an animal to heal,” Bonnie says. “You can’t help but become forever friends.”

Bonnie admits that although the job is very rewarding, her clients react to pain and discomfort far differently than humans. A horse or a dog can become very defensive. A horse may strike out with a hoof, bite and body slam her into a wall, while a dog may growl and bite. It takes a special kind of person who feels comfortable approaching an animal that has severe back pain and apply pressure to that area, whether it’s a twelve-hundred-pound horse or a ten-pound dog. Both situations can be equally intimidating.

It’s the love of animals and the gift of healing that drives Bonnie to see her clients every day. Animal bodywork is very demanding, physically and mentally. “Not only are you dealing with your fur-client’s discomfort, you must council and develop a relationship with the owners,” Bonnie says. “And it’s not a nine-to-five job. You work around everyone else’s schedules, not your own.”

Bonnie works directly with local farriers and veterinarians, often working on referrals to help clients recover from surgery, injuries, confirmation issues, or maintenance to help them be their best in doing the sports they enjoy. Bonnie notes that animals are athletes, like us, but the big difference is they can’t put their feet up with an ice pack after a strenuous day. They need professionals to release the knots and help their body recover.

“The main benefit of animal massage therapy is to increase circulation, and increased circulation promotes healing,” Bonnie says with conviction. It also increases their range of motion, enhances muscle tone, relieves stress and tension, increases mental clarity to help with training/competition, lowers heart rate, improves immunity and is a great option for general wellness.” She adds that monthly maintenance massage is recommended and, if there is a specific issue she is addressing, more frequent treatments are often needed.

And there are many stories of her success.

“After so many years,” Bonnie says with a smile, “there are lots of dogs, horses and cats who have touched my heart through my hands.”

Like Buddy. Buddy entered Bonnie’s life in 2009 and has been in it ever since. He suffers from navicular disease, a chronic disease that affects a horse’s feet, making it extremely painful to walk. When Bonnie met Buddy, he was having trouble walking comfortably, as his body was stiff and inflamed from his sore feet supporting his weight.

After the first treatment, Joan, Buddy’s owner, noticed Buddy was more eager to leave his stall in the morning to join his friends in the pasture. Bonnie returned the next week and worked her magic and each treatment saw more and more results. Soon Buddy was acting like a three-year-old: running, bucking, and doing the fun things that horses like to do.

Then there are the dogs.

Like Heidi, a rescue dog who was injured while a puppy and would limp whenever she stressed her hind leg running or turning quickly. “While I was visiting my friend one day, I was petting Heidi and my friend casually said, ‘Heidi’s been limping a lot lately and I can’t get her into the vet until next month’. I began to rub her leg and I felt exactly where the misalignment was and click! the hip went into place.” After another massage visit a week later, Heidi hasn’t limped since. It was a wonderful success story.

Some of her other canine friends and clients include Oleg, who loves to participate in agility courses with his mom, Michelle, and Ace, who is a sweet black lab that Bonnie helped after he was involved in a wild animal attack at his family’s camp. Then there’s Willow and her big sister Aliya, two labs who love to run and play at camp and sometimes get a bit over zealous and need some bodywork to get things back to normal. Halo, a tuxedo cat, is another patient who gets some help when she misjudges her cat choices and is a bit sore. And there’s Finn, Bonnie’s big Great Dane friend, who has age-related hip pain and always looks forward to Bonnie’s visits. And…well the list goes on and on.

Sadly, Bonnie admits, there are discouraging stories too. As an animal bodyworker she witnesses many preventable injuries caused from improper training equipment used on dogs and bad saddle fits on horses. Then there’s poor nutrition and neglect, choices made by the owners that are simply bad decisions. She notes that owners often get in over their heads when they purchase an animal, not really understanding what it is they are signing up for. “I believe if anyone is considering bringing an animal into their lives, they should research the breed, whether it is a dog, cat, or horse. They all require maintenance and specific care.”

Bonnie and her husband, Harvey, live on a hobby farm with her four horses, three dogs, and four cats. Her world is animals and being part of their lives. “I honestly cannot imagine spending it without them,” she says.

If you would like to contact Bonnie for information on getting a treatment for your dog, cat or horse, she can be reached at

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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