Courtesy of Tim Miller
Imagine you’re 17 years old, participating in your first pageant, and you’ve only decided to enter a few weeks ago. There’s an opening number, interview questions and a quick outfit change – one that requires you to scale the stairs in your high heels. Plus, you’re doing all of this with an 18-month-old golden retriever.
And you win.
That’s how Alison Appleby spent a Sunday earlier this month. Along with her service dog Brady in training, she beat out six other contestants to win the 2022 Miss Dallas Junior title.
He joined Applebys last summer after Alison was diagnosed with epilepsy. It’s a constant presence monitoring his stress and blood sugar. So when Alison wore the tiara, Brady got the crown, even though he didn’t care too much about it.
“They brought him a crown, which was hilarious,” Alison told Daily Paws. “It was the best thing ever. He hated it, but I thought it was adorable.”
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‘You can’t do that’
Alison entered the competition to prove a point: her disability will not stop her from competing and enjoying herself. Some righteous resentment – the best kind – also played a part.
A few weeks before the pageant, she was talking to a girl who had entered the Miss Dallas pageant, accompanied by a Miss Dallas Teen. Alison, with Brady next to her, said she was interested in entering the contest one day, and that’s when an unidentified woman who shared their table spoke up.
“You can’t do this because you’re disabled,” she remembers Alison saying.
That’s when the other girl urged Alison to sign up for Miss Dallas Teen.
“I signed up there,” says Alison. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
About three weeks later, the show arrived. Still a novice, Alison packed her clothes the day before and traveled to Richardson, Texas, about an hour south of her hometown of Sherman. As always, Brady showed up.
He is trained to sense that Alison is evil. Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder known to cause seizures, so Brady warns Alison if it’s unavoidable. It also monitors her blood sugar and stress levels – which can trigger seizures.
He’s also learning to grab a snack from his bag, and if he’s stressed, she’ll actually sit on him and administer deep pressure therapy, which regulates his heart rate.
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Originally, Alison had planned to go on stage without Brady and had a manager backstage. Fuck! He sensed that Alison was stressed, so he ran away from the manager and went to stand next to her.
“Well, that plan isn’t going to work. He needs to be with me at all times,” Alison said.
Competitions and their training are designed to wear out both competitors and service dogs. (Alison’s day started at 4 am and ended at 10 pm)
It started with an opening number that Alison described as “almost like a little dance” for both herself and Brady. Then there was the interview and Alison had to change into activewear for that part of the competition. Then came the ball gown and 4 or 5 inch heels. He changed only three times.
“I don’t know how she walks,” says Beth Appleby, Alison’s mother.
And Brady was … kind of thriving. He followed Alison through all the changes and took a few naps when he could, including under Alison’s gown and on the stage when she was standing. He even raised it a little.
“At one point he winked at the judges who killed everyone,” Alison said. “I swear that sealed the deal for them.”
Courtesy of Tim Miller
Parents aren’t allowed backstage, so Beth was glad Brady was there to check on her daughter and let the others know if she was feeling down. Alison was certainly grateful to be there, but the competition also represented an overlooked aspect of owning a service dog.
They are lovely animals that improve and enrich people’s lives, but they also carry a lot of responsibility for their handlers. Not only should Alison be in charge of her own well-being; she also has to make sure Brady gets everything he needs – whether it’s food, water, rest or bathroom breaks. Sometimes he has to leave social functions or friends to make sure she’s okay and put her first.
It did not stop for the competition. In addition to paying attention to her, she also had to coordinate bathroom breaks with her mother, for example.
“It’s another life with me,” he says.
To prove a point
Not expecting to win, Alison was shocked when her name was announced. As he celebrated with the other contestants, Brady jumped up and down — a service dog no-no we won’t overlook because he was so good.
“He was definitely a puppy at that point,” says Alison. “He was just a little pageant puppy the whole pageant. It was amazing. He loved every ounce of it.”
And Alison more than proved her point. He and Brady will compete in the statewide competition next May.
“It’s not your disease,” he says. “It’s just what you put your mind to.”
Anyway, shout out to the random lady who told Alison she couldn’t do it. It’s going well!