Approved in 1938 to judge seven toy breeds at conformation shows. He became an all-breed judge in 1969. He has judged at Westminster Kennel Club shows on 21 occasions, including Best in Show in 1992.
Speculation is that Mr. Downing may be the oldest active male judge. He wasn’t sure, hadn’t thought much about it, but there is no doubt that Mel Downing is an icon in the sport. Impeccably mannered, he quietly goes about sorting out the dogs. He is very methodical and not given to shuffling dogs back and forth. Of course we asked about the little book in which he makes judging notations! Everyone loves to speculate about "the book." Sorry, he won’t say. Perhaps he’ll leave it to the Dog Museum some day but don’t bet on it. He was quick to point out that no two people view the same dog in exactly the same way. We all accept that but he has thought much further ahead than most of us. He said "The longer the breed standard is, the more inconsistent the judging is for that breed." That is so true and no doubt it has to do with each judge seeing the same dog in a slightly different light. We agreed that some standards present an overwhelming amount of information, and a judge can get bogged down trying to apply all those details. It was an illuminating chat and we hope to bring Mr. Downing back for an encore!
TDP: What was your first breed? First show dog?
MTD: When I was two or three years old my parents bought me my first dog, a Standard Manchester and he was my companion until his death. When I was very young my mother bred Toy Poodles but by the time I reached the age of reason she had changed to Pekingese. My father raised German Shepherd Dogs.
I first showed, as a child, Pekingese that were entered to make points for my mother's exhibits. Even if my entry won the novice class my parents would say the judge made a mistake. So I first learned to be a looser. My first real show dogs were German Shepherds from our family kennel "Holly-Lodge". Our kennel produced the first American Bred Pekingese to win an all breed "Best in Show." "Ch. Wundah of Holly Lodge" won several Bests and a painting of him hangs in the hallway of the AKC Offices in New York. In 1930 my family went to England for about four weeks and I brought back a Pug in whelp and a male puppy.
TDP: Which was your best showdog? Best Producer?
MTD: My best Pug was "Ch. Rufus of Ellerslie of Holly-Lodge". He was a big winner and appears in the background pedigrees of many of the winners today. He was both my biggest winner and producer.
TDP: When, and why did you decide to become a judge?
MTD: My father was an all breed judge and I just followed in his footsteps. I first judged a sanctioned match of Papillions, on the campus of Princeton University, when I was seventeen years old. I had just graduated from high school. I obtained a license to judge seven toy breeds in 1938 and all breeds in 1969.
TDP: Are you online and if so, do you find the internet useful?
MTD: I am on line and find the INTERNET very useful.
TDP: What do you do in your other life? Profession, hobby?
MTD: I practiced law from November 1943 until May 2000 and also served as President of a major building company from January 1960 until December 1983. I had studied Architectural engineering for three years prior to studying law. My hobbies included boating, photography and golf and over a lifetime, dogs.
TDP: Would a computer generated match-up for assignments be fair?
MTD: I assume you are referring to assigning judges to shows by computer; I feel this is impractical and I cannot believe it will ever be attempted.
TDP: Does the commercialization of the sport bother you?
MTD: It depends on how far commercialization progresses. It cou1d change the entire Sport.
TDP: Have you judged out of the country and would you do so again?
MTD: I have judged in many foreign countries and in all the States of the United States. I judged all the groups and Best in Show at the Australian Bi-Centenary. I now confine my judging to the United States and Canada.
TDP: Are you nervous or excited about so many new breeds being admitted?
MTD: I do not think we need more breeds but I suppose they will add income through registrations. We are still trying to perfect the breeds we have. I don't mind judging them after careful study but it is amusing to see how many flock to a new breed because they feel it will be easier to win with less dogs competing.
TDP: Are you bothered by flamboyant clothing or behavior in the ring?
MTD: I think proper attire worn in the ring adds dignity to the Sport. I do not tolerate improper behavior in my ring.
TDP: On which do you rely more, visual or manual examination?
MTD: This question could only be answered as to a particular breed as some breeds are heavily coated and others have very short coats.
TDP: What grooming techniques drive you nuts?
MTD: As long as the trimming is legal I am not concerned except for proper grooming of terriers, which often appear improperly groomed with many clipped rather than plucked. I do encounter occasionally a good dog not properly trimmed and after the class I ask who trimmed the dog and then offer some advice.
TDP: When you first look down the line, what draws your eye?
MTD: I do not first look down the line to form an opinion as handlers can set up dogs in a manner that tends to hide some faults. My first impression, as to quality, is made when the dogs first circle the ring. At that point I note the dogs that are properly balanced and those that appear to exhibit the best breed type.
TDP: Should showmanship and presentation be considered?
MTD: Showmanship and presentation only play a part when two dogs are extremely competitive. Of course a dog must have enough showmanship to allow proper evaluation and in some cases meet the Standard, which may require a certain tail carriage to compete. (Example: A Pekingese must carry its tail up to be awarded winners)
TDP: Do you plan to apply for new breeds? Which ones?
MTD: I pick up new breeds as they are introduced.
TDP: Do you learn more from personal talks with breeders or from seminars?
MTD: I feel you learn more from good breeders as some seminars I attended were teaching error. There are some very good seminars. I feel more attention should be paid to teacher’s qualifications to instruct at a seminar.
TDP: Do you use the internet to learn more about breeds?
MTD: I do not use the INTERNET for that purpose.
TDP: What do you most enjoy about judging?
MTD: The dogs. Especially a very good specimen of any breed.
TDP: What advice would you give to today’s novice?
MTD: Gather as much knowledge concerning your breed from breeders, handlers, seminars and judges and weight carefully what you have been told as some instruction may be biased or even incorrect. Make up your own mind as to what is correct; this should not be difficult if your contacts cover a large field.