Bel Tor Poodles
Rebecca Mason bred 225 Poodle champions under her Bel Tor prefix, and made tremendous contributions as a judge and PCA officer. Although her accomplishments spanned four decades, she always considered herself a student of the breed.
Born in 1908, Becky grew up on her family’s Torrington, Conn., farm. Her father bred Airedales, Wires and Bull Terriers, and Westminster was an annual family event. These childhood experiences fostered her love for dogs, understanding of animal husbandry and sharp eye for type.
Her first Standard Poodle arrived as a Christmas gift in 1939, and she was instantly smitten. But she was living in Florida, raising two children, and couldn’t pursue her interest in Poodles until 1943 when she divorced and returned to Connecticut.
That year, she purchased the first of many Lowmont Poodles from Mary McCreery. Her foundation bitch, Lady Juliette, was a black out of a brown dog. Becky had no background in Poodles and admitted that she never considered color when deciding to breed her to a white son of Ch. Nunsoe Duc de la Terrace of Blakeen. She kept a brown male and bred him to a black bitch purchased from Hayes Hoyt. She worked with this challenging color combination for years. It yielded her first champion in 1950, but she exhibited infrequently, and concentrated on breeding for beautiful fronts, tight feet, refined bone and exquisite heads – traits that became hallmarks of Bel Tor.
As her children grew up she decided it was time to start exhibiting her breeding. Although she believed that she was on the right track, she wanted to evaluate her competition. Her Bel Tor prefix, registered in 1953, combined her name, and those of her children, Belinda and Tobias. That year, Becky finished three dogs and won her first Group.
She modestly attributed her success to beginner’s luck, but Bel Tor’s consistency and quality was no accident. She often remarked that she dreaded the thought of a poor-quality litter with one flyer, and believed that almost any dog could become a big winner with enough money behind it. She preferred to retire her champions rather than campaigning them, even though many Bel Tor dogs had special potential, including her favorite bitch, Ch. Bel Tor Hosanna. A combination of Lowmont and Surrey breeding, Hosanna was handled by Frank Sabella, but really made her mark in the whelping box, producing nine champions.
In 1954, Becky bred Hosanna and Ch. Lowmont Lady Cadette to Ch. Annsown Sir Gay. The Sir Gay breedings produced 10 champions and put Bel Tor on the map. Several finished from puppy class in puppy clip. Becky was determined to revise longstanding preferences for immense coat and tried to discourage judges from prioritizing coat over type. The Sir Gay litters produced Ch. Bel Tor Morceau Choisi, sire of 18 champions (his son Ch. Bel Tor McCreery produced 39 champions), and Ch. Bel Tor Gigadibs, sire of 28 champions.
Becky got into Toys in 1952 when a neighbor gave her Venda’s Noisette, a brown UK import. She liked the Toy’s toughness and independence, and described Noisette as oversized but not heavy boned or dwarfy like most Toy Poodles of that era. Anne Rogers Clark agreed that Noisette was worth breeding. For lack of a good stud, Becky began the painstaking process of crossing Toys to Minis to select for smaller size while preserving head type, outline and balance. This tedious work continued for 10 years before Becky decided that she had something worth showing. She finished her first Toy in 1962 and ultimately produced 15 Toy champions.
At its height Bel Tor was home to 50 Standards. It yielded legendary dogs like the top producer Ch. Bel Tor Big Picture, and provided foundation stock for many successful bloodlines. Most breeders would happily coast along on these accomplishments, but Becky realized there was always more to learn. She scrapped her Standard breeding program in the 1960s when OFA testing for hip dysplasia was introduced. Because other breeders were slow to follow suit and test their stock, she purchased new stud dogs to start again.
Becky brought equal intensity to her role as PCA president from 1971-74, initiating changes that permanently affected the direction of the club and the breed. She may be best remembered for turning PCA into the glamorous show it is today. She also introduced the rotating specialty that became the PCA regional, helped to develop the illustrated standard, and prevented PCA from dropping corded coats as an acceptable presentation style.
Her dedication and vision also made her an extremely popular judge. Del Dahl aptly describes her commitment to the breed in The Complete Poodle: “Becky Mason of Bel Tor judged frequently in the Midwest, and when her assignment was finished, she always found her way to the grooming area. What followed was the equivalent of a seminar on the Poodle, and any dog in the area was apt to be part of what she demonstrated.”
In the mid-1980s, Becky began dispersing her kennel. A few of her older Standards remained companions until her death in 1996.