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Numero uno is Westminster’s number one

The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden, New York, was electric as we were only moments away from best in show being declared at the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Show. Dr. J. Donald James was this year’s BIS judge. He has been in dogs over 45 years and has shown Corgis, GSDs, Dobermanns and Schipperkes. He was quoted as saying, “ You must go to Westminster, either to see or be seen. There’s nothing more exciting”, a sentiment with which I heartily concur!

A silence fell upon the crowd who were reaching the point of hysteria only moments earlier when the final seven dogs were introduced into the ring individually. This was when the noise became almost unbearable! When each dog was gaited the cheers had to be heard to be believed. I am sure that money was changing hands at this point. Bets had certainly been wagered amongst the press and the leading contenders were the Akita, the Beagle, the Sealyham and the Toy Poodle. I stood to win the princely sum of $1 if my choice, the Beagle, won, so you can gather the stakes were rather high!

There is no Reserve Best in Show and there is only one winner. This year that accolade went to the Beagle! Ch K-Run’s Park Me In First was in fine fettle and gave voice several times after being brought out into the spotlight, proving that Uno really was Number One!

I have never failed to get goosebumps upon catching my first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline en route from JFK over the past 40 years of visiting this vibrant city. In the glory days I used to fly in from London on Pan Am and catch their helicopter link direct to the heart of the city, landing on the roof of the Pan Am Building, now the Met Life Building. Approaching the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings twinkling in the evening sky before landing high above the streets made me feel like a movie star.

Since we first started coming to Westminster our first port of call has been the Pennsylvania Hotel (you all know its famous telephone number, Pennsylvania 6-5000) on the Friday before Westminster where the Progressive Dog Club holds it annual Toy Breeds Show. This year there were 470 dogs entered in the catalogue. Almost as soon as we arrived we were chatting animatedly with Peter Green and his partner Beth Sweigart when Lisa Croft-Elliott and Carrie Russell-Smith rushed in and, in the blink of an eye, Lisa was on all fours taking the first of many photographs of clients’ dogs in the ring in addition to taking some candid ringside shots. In the past we have always seen Liz Stannard and Bert Easdon around the Pekingese ring but this year it was the turn of Winnie Mee to fly the flag. I was surprised to see Murray Armstrong and John Thirwell taking an interest in the Toys as they are more usually associated with Gundog breeds here at home, being the handlers of ‘Yogi’ the top winning Hungarian Vizsla.

On Friday evening a black tie charity event, the Have A Heart Ball, was held at the Essex House Hotel on South Central Park. The Essex House has been one of New York’s landmarks since the 30s. Traditionally the Ball was held at the Plaza Hotel just along the street but it has yet to re-open its doors following a major refurbishment programme. All proceeds from this glittering event went towards funding search and rescue dogs, work which came to the fore in the aftermath of 9/11 in New York. Dorothy Nickles, one of the USA’s ‘grande dames’ in dogs, usually co-hosts this event and persuades those attending to part with their money in aid of this very worthy cause. Unfortunately she felt unable to make the journey from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, this year. Her presence was sadly missed by all who attended but we had a ball nevertheless!

Sue Garner of the Aivlys Pyrenean Mountain Dogs & Tibetan Terriers accompanied us on this trip & we were fortunate enough to be invited to a private viewing at the William Secord Gallery located on the Upper East Side to partake of some wine and nibbles whilst admiring some of the breathtaking works of canine art which were hung in various rooms. Bill Secord is known to many of us here in the UK through several of his authoritative books on dogs in art which are available through Our Dogs. We were in awe of a Pointer which was available for $150,000 and a Yorkie for $25,000. I am seriously considering a small oil painting of a Yorkie for a more modest $4,500, but don’t tell Cindy as it is meant to be a surprise!

Saturday evening was the time to let our hair down with a visit to the Chronicle Party. This year it was sponsored by Jack Daniels & Finlandia Vodka, both of which flowed in liberal quantities into the wee small hours, accompanied by enough food to feed the five thousand - they all seemed to be there on the night! The theme this year was 1970s Disco and there were extravagant costumes being sported by lookalike singers of the time, my favourite being Cher. I lost count of the number of lives bands performing and we danced our socks off until exhaustion set in!

Judging started on each day at Westminster at 8am sharp with the playing of the National Anthem. Although there are only 2,500 dogs exhibited judging is carried out with military precision. There are almost no delays and exceptions are made for no-one. It was quite a surprise to find judging taking much longer than anticipated on Day 2 when several breeds in one ring over-ran by almost an hour. There is usually a break between the end of judging and Group competition which allows everyone to return to their hotel, shower and change into something more classy and have an early dinner. Judges and officials sit in a set of seats immediately adjacent to the Main Ring and the men wear black tie while the women sprout so many diamonds it is hard to differentiate between the audience at the Oscars and the dog show. I personally find this show one of the most exciting I have ever attended. It would be so easy to become cynical and concentrate on the fact that there are only 2,500 entries competing in six rings which take up less than the space of one hall at the NEC. There is something about this show which I cannot put into words. It has to be experienced to truly appreciate it. When Group Judging takes place in the evening the banked seating around the arena has a capacity of 19,500 which probably accounts for its unique atmosphere.

This year caused a few upsets as the Groups were re-arranged which saw the Hound, Terrier, Non-Sporting & Herding Groups compete on Day 1 and the Sporting, Toy & Working Groups competing on Day 2. Many spectators were caught unawares and some were most disappointed not to see their favourite breeds, especially when they had travelled some considerable distance, certainly a lot further than we are used to doing in the UK as many fly in just for the show. We saw Warren Bradley grooming an assortment of dogs from Chihuahuas to Black Russian Terriers, over the two days, of the show assisting Ernesto Lara, one of the top handlers, as well as Paula Martinez, one of the owners of some of the top dogs.

Four new breeds were classified for the first time. In the Hound Group, the Plott resembles an American Coon Hound and was only removed from the Miscellaneous classes ( the equivalent of our AVNSC) only a year ago. Seven Champions were entered under Patricia Trotter, well known for her Vin-melca Norwegian Elkhounds who have been Top Sire & Top Dam in the breed’s history in addition to having been awarded 10 Group Firsts at Westminster. No mean feat for a breeder/owner/handler in an environment dominated by professional handlers. There were two new breeds in the Herding Group, the Beauceron ( 6 entries ) & the Swedish Vallhund ( 9 entries ) both judged by Rick Gschwender, who has been very successful with his Bouviers des Flandres under his Rombo & Rendezvous affixes. The final new breed was the Tibetan Mastiff in the Working Group. There were 13 entries for judge Paula Nykiel, famous in Pointers for having bred & owner/handled not only the breed’s top producer of all-time but also to Number 1 ranking on three occasions.

During one of the many opportunities for the media to meet various canine personalities and several celebrity dogs organised by the superb backroom team consisting of Ranny Green of the Seattle Times & Linda Duane of Westminster Kennel Club under the leadership of David Frei, there was an interesting talk by Kerstin Ottmar whose mother, Margaret Bennett, imported the first Swedish Vallhund to the USA having seen them at Windsor Ch. Show. She was accompanied by ‘Moose’, Ch. Jonricker Moustaffa CD RAE NA NAJ, who is a real multi-talented and multi-purpose dog being a Therapy dog and also a Service dog, and was the oldest do entered at the show at the age of 12 years and 3 months of age. Amazingly it was Sue Garner who collected the original Vallhund 20 years ago from Ada West ( of the Starvon Vallhunds) to deliver to her friend Margaret who was active in Pyrenean Mountain Dogs. Small World indeed!

One other truly humbling experience was interviewing a young boy, Noah Stutts, aged 6 from Corinth, Mississippi. Noah was accompanied by ‘James’, BIS Westminster 2007 Ch Felicity’s Diamond Jim, in his ‘other’ capacity as a Therapy dog with Angel On A Leash, Westminster Kennel Club’s own Charity which champions the use of therapy dogs in health-care facilities, hospices, schools and crisis intervention. ‘James’ and his owner, Terry Patton, have worked tirelessly raising funds for a plethora of deserving good causes. This brave little boy certainly made me re-think my take on life.

I interviewed Peter Green prior to his judging of several Terrier breeds, Borders, Cairns, Norwich & Scotties. He has won Best In Show at Westminster 4 times, in 28 years he has only missed two Westminsters since becoming the most successful professional handler in America prior to his retirement in 2006. Peter was making his debut in the centre of the ring here and was looking forward to the experience. As he said himself, “ I’ve had some big wins and some wonderful times here, along with a few disappointments”. He will be judging Best In Show at Crufts in 2009.
Group judging is preceded by the National Anthem being played whilst the whole arena stands and sings. When the last note is played a huge cheer erupts along with thunderous applause. This sets the tone for the next couple of hours as judging takes place. I sat near Lucille Ellen, one of the organisers of the Royal Show in Sydney, who was over from Australia visiting a mutual friend, Patie Ventre, who is a leading light in canine freestyle in the USA.

The first group to be judged was the Hound Group, Ralph Lemcke officiating. He started out in Beagles and is better known for his involvement in Miniature Pinschers. The Group is split into two sections and, after each one has been assessed, there is a commercial break when the lights dim slightly and the judge can relax for a few minutes and partake of some cool water out of the intense television lighting. Unlike our own Crufts the whole of the evening is televised live throughout the nation. Crowd participation is de rigueur and is positively encouraged by the commentator. This year there was a wonderful innovation available to those of us who were reporting on the show. ‘Smart Bugs’, earpieces which were linked by live transmission to the television commentary being provided by David Frei, ensured that additional background information on each & every dog was available to all concerned. This ensured that a multitude of diverse facts and figures was at my fingertips with little effort going into the collation ( unlike in previous years when I had to undertake masses of research as most of the dogs and handlers were not known to me ) From 26 dogs, eight made the final cut, a magnificent Afghan, a talkative Beagle ( the larger of the two varieties shown here ), a Borzoi ( none of which were particularly close to the UK standard as they lacked the distinct topline and head ), a wonderful Longhaired Dachshund, a Harrier, a Norwegian Elkhound, a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen and a stunning Whippet. Group 1 went to the Beagle, ‘Uno’, Ch K-Run’s Park Me In First, co-owned by Caroline Dowell, Eddie Dzuik, Jon Wooding & Kathy Weichert, handled by Aaron Wilkerson. This was a real crowd-pleaser as the roof almost came off when he was brought out. ‘Uno’ is America’s Top Hound with 32 BIS to his credit. Group 2 was the Longhaired Dachshund, Ch Solo’s Drag-Queen SL, co-owned by Wayne Heikes & Carlos Puig. Group 3 the Harrier, Ch Downhome Family Tradition, co-owned by Dr. & Mrs. William Truesdale and Susan Stacy Lowder. The Truesdales own some superb Affenpinschers, bred by Beth Sweigart, some of what are from English stock, in addition to several other breeds. Group 4 was the PBGV, a popular dog with the audience, Ch Afterglow Ebeneezer, co-owned by Dr. Mary Meritz, Ron Newman & Fred Ellingford. ‘Neezie’ is America’s No 3 Hound with 18 BIS to his credit and was co-bred by Fred Ellingford and our very own Michael Gadsby who was at the show to cheer him on.

The Terrier Group was next to be judged and into centre stage stepped Betty-Anne Stenmark, author of 6 books on various breeds and known for her King’s Mountain Dandie Dinmonts. She was Chairman for 30 years of the Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore in California which attracts one of the largest entries in the USA. From the 27 dogs which were in the ring ( the Dandie Dinmont was the only Terrier missing and there had only been 1 entered at the show which was co-bred by the judge but it had not appeared in breed judging ) she pulled out 8 for further consideration: the Border the Smooth Fox, the Irish, the Kerry Blue ( Ch Perrisblu Paris, bred in the U.K. by Phil Davies, owned by Don Gau, handled by the talented Ernesto Lara is the Number 1 Kerry Blue ), the Norfolk, the Scottie, the Sealyham & the Welsh Terrier. Group 1 was the Sealyham, Ch Efbe’s Hidalgo at Goodspice, co-owned by Margery & Richard Good and Sandra Middlebrooks, handled by Margery. This stunning Sealyham has been awarded 46 BIS and was BIS at the Seventh Annual AKC Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach, California where ‘Charmin’ took the $50,000 BIS cash prize! Group 2 was the Scottie, Ch Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, the No 1 Scottish Terrier owned by Amelia Musser and handled by Gabriel Rangel, another top professional handler. Group 3 was the Norfolk Terrier, Ch Max-Well’s Viper, the winner of the 2007 Norfolk Speciality, owned by Susan Kipp & Barbara Miller. Group 4 was the Smooth Fox Terrier, Ch Torquay S Demetrio, owned by Clay Coady, Marco Botelho & Evelina Martini. This dog is also a Brazilian Champion, has won 47 BIS, was the Top Smooth in both 2006 & 2007 and has won the National Speciality three times. There was a family competition going on between the last two dogs as they were handled by a mother & daughter combination!

The Non-Sporting Group was the third to enter the big ring where Dr Michael Manning was the judge. His family attended only one dog show in order to research their chosen breed, a Dalmatian, and the show was?’ve guessed it, Westminster! He became closely involved with the breed whilst practising medicine but gave up dogs 15 years ago to become a priest. This is a comparatively small Group and there were a total of 18 BOBs to assess. One of the judges in this group who judged 4 breeds was none other than the legendary Fred Bassett (could you have a better name for a dog judge? A final cut of seven was made: the Bichon Frise, the Bulldog, the Chinese Shar-pei, the Chow Chow, the Dalmatian, the Standard Poodle and the Tibetan Terrier. Group 1 was the Standard Poodle, Ch. Brighton Minimoto, co-owned by Cindy Coggin, Don Rochaw & Zuleika Borges Torrealba, handled by Christian Manelopoulos. This bitch was the Number 1 Non-Sporting Dog in the USA in 2007 in addition to being the Number Three Dog All Breeds. Having won 130 Groups she took the Non-Sporting Bitch record. She also won the Group at Westminster in 2007. Group 2 was the Bulldog, Ch Cherokee Legend Rock, co-owned by Connie Chambers & Cody Sickle. ‘Rock’ won the Bulldog Speciality last year. Group 3 was the Bichon Frise, Ch Paray’s Paragon, co-owned by David & Diane Anderson and Paul Flores, handled by his breeder R. Tray Pitman. Group 4 was the Tibetan Terrier, Ch Players Prodigy, co-owned by Louis Krokover & David Murray, handled by Amy Rutherford. ‘RJ’ has won the breed on no fewer than three occasions at The Garden and is now six years old.

The final Group of the night was the Herding Group and the judge was Stanley Saltzman whose involvement in the sport goes back some 52 years. This was his 52nd consecutive appearance at Westminster! He has judged here seven times and judged the herding Group in 1994. Seven dogs were asked to remain behind from an initial 21 BOBs. One of the dogs asked to leave warrants a special mention; the Swedish Vallhund, Ch. Starvon I’m The One, owed by Ada West, co-bred by she & her husband, Tim & handled by Cheryl Rolfe. ‘Bo’ is the only UK & US champion in the breed and was Best Puppy and then Best of Breed at Crufts in 2007. What a superb ambassador for the breed!

The shortlist consisted of: the Australian Shepherd, the Belgian Shepherd (Groenendael to us), the Bouvier Des Flandres, the Rough Collie, the German Shepherd, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi & the Puli. Another dog that must be mentioned was the Best Opposite Sex Puli, Ch Loakespark Pretty Smart, co-owned by Alex Davis & Carolyn Nusbickel. ‘Missy’ was handled in the breed ring by Alex, whose mother is Ann Arch (Secretary of National Working & Pastoral Breeds Society) a renowned breeder/handler/judge in her own right, and she came over to Crufts in 2007 where she took BOB. Group 1 was the Australian Shepherd, Ch Vinelake Collinswood Yablon OA OAJ, owned by Terri J Collins & handled by a very popular young professional handler, Jessica Plourde. Group 2 was the Bouvier Des Flandres, Ch Quiche’s Demetrius, co-owned by Elaine & Louise Paquette. This partnership & their affix may sound familiar as they are the breeders of Fiona Lambert’s top-winning male, Douglas, who is this dog’s litter mate. Group 3 was the German Shepherd Dog, Ch Kaleefs Geneva Aeval-Achtung, co-owned by Janet Lange & Roger Rechler, handled by the legendary Jimmy Moses who also co-bred him. I saw this dog’s sire, Ch Kismets Sight For Sore Eyes win the Herding Group here in 2003, also handled by Jimmy Moses and they are like peas in a pod! He is currently the No 1 GSD, No 1 herding Dog & ranked No 7 All Breeds. Group 4 was the Rough Collie, Ch Sylvan Argent Simply Irresistible, co-owned by dr. Cindi Bossart, Connie DuBois & James Efron. This dog is Number 4 Rough Collie and here he beat his kennel mate, the Number 1 Rough Collie, Just One Look for BOB.

Judging was completed bang on time for 11pm and the venue emptied slowly as the escalators were turned off for safety reasons. With over four levels of spectators, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how long that took! Returning to our nearby hotel, the Empire State Building was lit in its more familiar colours of red, white & blue.

We had another early start on Day 2 as judging commenced yet again at 8am. I was astonished to learn that 700+ media credentials had been approved for the show from over 20 countries. I don’t know where they all went to as each evening there was an exclusive band of forty or fifty reporters in the Press Box and about the same number of photographers in the collecting ring area. Cindy & I had a long chat with Gilbert Kahn who we first met some years ago in New York at an Awards Dinner. Gilbert has judged frequently in the UK and he was most complimentary about a particular young dog which he tipped for high honours………more of that later. He told us that he will not be coming to Crufts this year as he will be going instead to Las Vegas to celebrate his birthday, a special one as he will be 80 years young! This charming, stylish gentleman looks as if he has just passed his 60th birthday.

We bumped into Jayne Johns & Carol Keight who had come over for the weekend to see the Portuguese Water Dogs which had drawn an entry of 22. Jayne introduced me to Jane Harding, another PWD enthusiast, resident in the USA for some 30 years at the ringside. Just after lunchtime news reached us that we had not escaped the dreaded snow.

Although not nearly as bad as in previous years, there was about three inches lying by the time we left to return to our hotel to change for the evening. We had to don hats, overshoes and heavier coats as the temperature plummeted to 15 degrees below freezing!

The first Group of the night was the Sporting Group. The judge was Elliott Weiss and his first show was also Westminster. He has judged here on 6 occasions and judged the Terrier Group in 2004, when he awarded the Norfolk Terrier, ‘Coco’, Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre her first Terrier Group Win of 2 at the show. This is a large group consisting of 27 breeds. One of the judges had come all the way from Australia: Guy Spagnolo is world-famous for his Labradors who have had a huge influence in bloodlines in several countries, including the USA. The capacity crowd was even more vocal than the previous night.

One of the loudest cheers of all came when the Golden retriever was moved. This breed ranks as the most popular in the US and the crowd certainly confirmed this! Seven were shortlisted for further consideration: the Pointer (the mascot of Westminster Kennel Club), the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the ASCOB Cocker Spaniel (Any Solid Colour Other Than Black) and this is the American Cocker to us, the English Cocker Spaniel, the English Springer Spaniel, the Vizsla and the Weimaraner. Several big winners were excluded, much to the amazement of my fellow scribes.
Group 1 was the Weimaraner, Ch Colsidex Seabreeze perfect Fit, co-owned by Ellen Charles, Alessandra Folz & Judy Colan. This young bitch, ‘Marge’ is handled by Alessandra Folz and has had 20 BIS, has won the National Speciality twice & is No 1 Weimaraner as well as No 5 Sporting Dog. Group 2 was the Pointer, Ch Cookieland Seasyde Hollyberry, co-owned by Helyne Medeiros & Marjetta Kennels, is the Top Pointer, is also one of the Top Sporting Dogs in the USA and she won the American Pointer Club National Speciality in 2007. Group 3 was the Cocker Spaniel A.S.C.O.B., Ch Lydgate Rise N’ Shine, co-owned by Jacquelyn Beaudoin, Mary Walker & Deborah Knight, handled by Linda Pitts which was the No. 2 Sporting Dog in 2007 & also won the Spaniel Speciality. Group 4 was the English Cocker Spaniel, Ch. Chestnuts Selling The Drama, co-owned by Bill Burgraaf & Sheri Johnson, handled by Laura L. King. ‘Copper’ has been a popular dog, with 26 BIS awards, now retiring after this show.

The next Group was the Toy Group, judged by Sari Brewster Tietjen, who has been active in Japanese chins for over 50 years. Although she no longer actively breeds or shows she still keeps her bloodlines and has several Chins at home with her. She is a respected author who has published five books and she writes a bi-weekly column for Dog News. From the assembled group of 23 BOBs she shortlisted 7. One of those excluded was one of my favourites, the Afenpinscher, Ch Tamarin Tug, co-owned by Patty & Phil Smith, whose sons invented the Taser gun, after which ‘Taser’ is named. The final seven consisted of: the Brussels Griffon, the Havanese, the Japanese chin, the Papillon, the Pomeranian, the Toy Poodle and the Pug. Group 1 went to the Toy Poodle, Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory, owned by Ron Scott, handled by Kaz Hosaka. ‘Vikki’is America’s Top Dog, with 105 BIS awards, 259 Group Wins, is undefeated in the variety in her career and she won the Group here last year. Group 2 was the Brussels Griffon, Ch Cilleine Masquerade, co-owned by Mamie & Evalyn Gregory and Anne & Harlowe Jahelka and handled by Douglas Carlson. This was the young dog tipped for high honours earlier in the day before bred judging took place. Bred in the UK by Denise Barney this Smooth Red is an absolute stunner. It takes a real breed expert to appreciate Smooths in this breed and it is most unusual for one to be placed as highly as this by a non-specialist which makes his win even more spectacular. Group 3 was the Havanese, Ch Yup’s Cohiba Esplendido, a Canadian Multiple Group Winner who is now seven years old and still looking as his name suggests, ‘splendid’. He is co-owned by Lauren Goebel & Janet Birdsall, handled by David Stout and the breed judge was Fred Bassett. Group 4 was the Pug, Ch Tupelo Showboat Tu China Tu, co-owned by Mary Hedricks, Patti & Ray Kolesar and Doug Huffman, he was BOB from an entry of 37 and is No 2 Pug in the USA in addition to having six BIS, four Speciality Wins & 12 Groups.

The final Group was the Working Group, judged by Connie Barton, who was retiring from judging after the show. Her career in dogs has spanned over 60 years as a breeder, handler & judge. She has previously judged at this show on five separate occasions and judged the Sporting Group in 1995. She was experiencing some mobility problems but this ‘gritty’ elderly lady was determined that she would carry out her assignment and she sensibly rested when the television advertisement breaks came along. She had 25 dogs to examine and she whittled them down to a final shortlist of 5: the Akita, the Bullmastiff, the Dobermann Pinscher, the Great Dane, the Portuguese Water Dog and the Tibetan Mastiff. Group 1 was the Akita, Ch Redwitch Reason To Believe, owned by Roger Rechler, bred in the U.K. by Dave & Jenny Killilea and Arlene Clure. Handled superbly by Laurie Jordan-Fenner, ‘Macey’ now has 62 BIS wins, is the No 1 Working Dog, No 2 All Breeds, the Top Winning Akita in history & won the group here at the show last year! Group 2 was the Dobermann Pinscher, Ch Cambria’s Victoria Secret, co-owned by Anthony & Sheila DiNardo (in the breed for over 30 years) and Sonny Wang is No 2 Doberman Pinscher in the USA. Group 3 was the Great Dane, Ch Maitau’s Eye Candy v MJM, co-owned by Polly Hiox and Laurie & Michael Maulucci. ‘Eva’ is the No 1 Dane & is a multi- BIS as well as Multi-Speciality Winner. Group 4 was the Bullmastiff, Ch Bastion’s Music in The Glen RN, co-owned by Dr. Scott Hoffman, Gerald Greer and Robert & Lynn Spohr, handled by Bill Martin.

After the photographers had taken thousands of shots, Aaron & Uno came up to the Press Room for a more intimate chat and some last-minute photographs in a relaxed atmosphere. And so another Westminster came to an end. As we walked back to our hotel the Empire State Building was lit up in purple & gold, the colours of Westminster. We were already planning our trip for 2009! Take some time off and make the trip across the pond... indulge in a little shopping and soak up the atmosphere at what is undoubtedly the World’s Most Exciting Dog Show. I’ll see you there!