IT’S SHOW TIME | Breeders Linda Moore, left, and Laurie Foley, along with champion bitch Miranda, are all the proud parents of Beckham, a cocker and favorite headed into the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show later this month. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Partners Linda Moore and Laurie Foley love their dogs like kids — really gifted kids who are national champions

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor

If you think that breeders of show dogs would be akin to the high-maintenance stage parents seen on Toddlers & Tiaras, well, that’s just not Linda Moore and Laurie Foley. It all begins with a love of animals.

Moore’s first dog as a child was a Dachshund; Foley’s, a cocker mix — both, coincidentally, were named Princess. They both love pets, though 22 years ago, Moore went in a more serious direction, becoming a breeder of cocker spaniels and other purebred pooches.

She achieved some success on the dog show circuit. But nothing like what’s happened in the last year with Beckham, her solid black American cocker spaniel.

“There are two ways you get into the Westminster Kennel Club Show: If you are a ranked dog, you are invited; otherwise, you have to apply. Last year, Beckham was so young he hadn’t qualified so we made the entry,” Moore explains.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM | The top cocker in competition, Beckham trots to victory with his handler at a recent dog show.

Oh, the difference a year can make. In 2010, Beckham was the No. 1 cocker spaniel, the No. 2 sporting dog and the No. 5 overall dog. In the world. In 2011, Westminster asked him to show up for the most prestigious dog show on the planet. And on Valentine’s Day, that’s just what he’ll do.

“Westminster is so unique because of its long tradition,” says Moore. (It’s second only to the Kentucky Derby in history of its continuous operation; the show later this month will be its 135th.) “It’s the only show where only champions are shown, so it’s the one show where virtually every top dog will be there.” Think of the Academy Awards with flea collars. Or the Nobel Prize for shiny coats.

Because it comes so early in the year, it can also catapult a relative unknown into the stratosphere. That’s basically what happened with Beckham last year.

“Theoretically, a dog of any age can win,” says Moore, a lawyer by day. “Generally, though, you need to be over a year old — some judges think you don’t have the maturity before that. There is one judge in particular that at the first of last year would not put us as high in the sporting group because she didn’t think Beckham had the maturity.”

Now just over two-and-a-half, Beckham is still at the start of his career, and with 23 best in show finishes last year, the sky seems to be the limit.

Moore admits, however, that she didn’t always see the championship potential in the striking solid black American cocker spaniel that is probably the favorite this year for the winner’s circle.

“Even as a puppy, there was a little bit of seriousness to him,” Moore says, but she was betting on his sister to become the star of the litter.

“We knew her whole litter, just in looking at it, that it was very, very good.” Moore says. “They just kinda had a look, even as babies, of being balanced: The front and the rear go together, they don’t have the angle on their shoulders. This whole litter was very nice. But I thought the sister was standout.”

Then at 10 weeks, a friend with show dog experience saw Beckham and declared, “He might really be great,” Moore says. There was a lot of discussion about him being a bit different.

“He just took to it,” says Foley. “It’s like he was born to do this.”

Not everybody agreed, though. “There is a good friend of ours who is a judge who saw him when he was four months old and didn’t like him; she has since given him a best in show,” Moore beams.

Beckham lives most of the time with his trainer-handlers in Tennessee. But the household for the rest of their brood is much like any other pet-friendly place.

“We have 14 dogs,” Moore says without batting an eyelash. “We have kennels, of course, but there aren’t too many rules.”

“Well, there is some furniture they can’t get on,” chimes in Foley, who, until she met Moore 10 years ago, was more of the mutt-loving, dog-rescuing variety pet owner.

While Moore breeds and shows cockers (American and English) and pugs, she also has a standard poodle as part of the household — and, of course, Beckham’s mom, Miranda. And they have a sense of humor about their four-legged children: All the pups in that championship litter were named after sex symbols: Harrison (Ford), Patrick (Swayze) and of course Beckham, who ended up astonishing everyone.

“The goal is to breed the perfect dog — which of course is not possible,” Moore concedes. “Each breed club develops written standards for what the perfect dog would be, everything from the coat texture to their head to their eyes, teeth, shoulders, movement. Miranda was reserve winner’s bitch and she was second-best black bitch in more than 100,” so Beckham had the genes to be a champion.

Even if he hadn’t been the best, he’d still be their sweet cocker. But on Feb. 15, they hope he might be something else, too: Best in show at Westminster. That would be something to bark about.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.