It's like a changing of the guard ... dog.

Neither Amber nor Buddy do any actual guarding, but they are first-rate greeters.

For about six years, St. Bernard/golden retriever mix Amber has been meeting guests and residents at the entrance to the Memory Care section of Senior Star at Elmore Place, Davenport. Loyal to her duties and her neighbors, most with varying degrees of dementia, Amber has given of herself in ways only a dog can.

"It's that companionship she gives to the residents — that joy, that feeling they get when they see her," said Amanda Buchholz, director of Memory Care. "The residents light up when they see Amber."

But the almost-9-year-old dog was showing signs of slowing down.

"I noticed over the past year that she's sleeping more," Buchholz said. "She doesn't always go to the door to greet people the way she's always done. She wasn't performing the way we'd like her to. I've been catching her on the living room couch, too."

In other words, Amber was giving her notice to HR: The time has come to retire.

Enter Buddy.

When Buchholz noticed Amber's work ethic was beginning to slip last year, she put in a call to dog trainer Maria Salata, who had supplied Senior Star with Amber. A full-blooded golden retriever, 1-year-old Buddy has completed his training to fill Amber's position.

The final dog in Salata's career as a trainer, Buddy started his on-site training about a month ago. It hasn't been perfect, exactly, but everyone's giving the youngster a break. After all, Amber was 3 when she started at Senior Star, and she had a half-dozen years on the job to become what many would say was a perfect employee.

"We acclimated Buddy to Amber, then to the facility," Buchholz said. "He was kind of rowdy, but he's still a puppy.

"They can go anywhere they want to go at the facility, except for the dining room. Buddy struggles a little with that rule."

Salata said Buddy's youth is showing.

"For Amber, she thought everybody was there to see her," she said. "Buddy's the same, but he's more exuberant about it."

It will be up to the entire staff at Memory Care and in Independent and Assisted Living areas to help Buddy get better about the rules. Consistent enforcement, Salata has emphasized, is the surest way to good behavior.

But it's not so easy to correct Buddy when some of his naughtiness occurs out of staffers' view. He does, after all, have the run of the facility. Although he lives at Memory Care, he also will do as Amber did and make daily rounds to the other sections of the Senior Star community. And he frequently is invited into residents' rooms to hang out.

One such resident is Charlie Cook (father of Quad-City Times photographer Jeff Cook), who has had golden retrievers of his own.

Already busted for giving bacon to Buddy, Cook is an unapologetic repeat offender. He last week opened the storage area in his walker to reveal to Buddy a dinner roll. The temptation was too great, and Buddy helped himself.

"Amber is a great dog, and Buddy'll be alright, too," Cook said. "What do you say, Buddy?"

Asked whether he will miss Amber, Cook immediately replied, "Oooooh, yes!"

But Amber's adoptive father, Larry Vojcihoski, 66, told Senior Star staff last week that he will bring her back to visit.

Badly injured in a vehicle roll-over accident while serving in the U.S. military in Germany, Vojcihoski requires the use of a wheelchair. His wife passed away almost three years ago, he suffered a heart attack and other major health problems in more recent years, and the dog he rescued with his wife had to be put down suddenly after a cancer diagnosis last year.

He initially was under the impression Amber is a service dog, which gets more training than a facility dog, but he said Amber's sweet disposition and work experience at Senior Star should make her a great fit for his home.

"She's used to giving comfort to people who are lonely and confused, and that's me pretty much every other day," he said. "The dog I had, he looked for my wife for three days after she died. He knew I was grieving, and he put his chin on my knee and looked up as if to say, 'We'll get through this.'

"I've been so excited for this adoption. My mom is 95, and she knows what I've been through, and she's been praying I get a dog."

An answered prayer is helping those who are attached to Amber let her go.

"It's so sad for us, having Amber retire, but we're so happy she's going with him," said Senior Star's assistant executive director, Annette Martinez. "And he says he'll bring her back to visit."

Salata has trained many dogs over the years, and she said the animal's future is always more important than letting go of your own attachment to them.

"My first dog was the hardest, obviously," she said of parting with a pet. "But you realize they could never mean that much to you. That sounds bad, I know. I love my dog, and she's a family member.

"With people who actually need them, though — that dog is the reason to get up in the morning. They're never going to be left at home. You know the difference they're making in people's lives."

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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