Courtesy of Tim Miller
Imagine you are 17 years old, entering your first contest that you only decided to enter a few weeks ago. There’s an opening act, interview questions, and quick outfit changes, which require climbing stairs in your high heels. Plus, you’re doing all of this with an 18-month-old golden retriever in tow.
And you win.
This is how Alison Appleby spent a Sunday earlier this month. She beat out six other contestants to win the title of Miss Dallas Teen 2022 alongside her training service dog, Brady.
He joined the Applebys last summer after Alison was diagnosed with epilepsy. He is a constant presence monitoring his stress and blood sugar levels. So when Alison put on her tiara, Brady received a crown, even though he didn’t care a bit.
“They brought her 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 not do that”
Alison entered the contest to prove a point: that her disability wouldn’t stop her from competing and having fun. Good badness – the best – also played a role.
A few weeks before the pageant, she was chatting with a girl who had entered the Miss Dallas Pageant, the Miss Dallas Teen Companion Pageant. Alison, Brady next to her, mentioned that she was interested in entering a contest one day, and that’s when an unknown woman sharing their table spoke up.
“You can’t do that because you’re disabled,” Alison recalled.
At that time, the other girl urged Alison to enter Miss Dallas Teen.
“I signed up right there,” Alison said. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
About three weeks later, the competition arrived. Still a novice, Alison picked up her dresses the night before and made the trip to Richardson, Texas, about an hour south of her hometown of Sherman. As always, Brady came too.
He’s trained to sense when Alison is sick. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder best known for causing seizures, so Brady warns Alison if a seizure is imminent. It also monitors her blood sugar and stress levels, which can trigger seizures when they go out of whack.
He also learns to retrieve a snack from his bag, and if she is stressed, he sits on top of her, applying deep pressure therapy that regulates her heart rate.
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Initially, Alison had planned to appear on stage without Brady, leaving him with a manager backstage. Sike! He sensed that Alison was stressed, escaped the dog handler and went to stand beside her.
“We were like, ‘OK, well, this plan won’t work. He has to be next to me all the time,'” Alison says.
Pageants and rehearsals seem designed to wear out competitors and service dogs. (Alison’s day started at 4am and ended at 10pm)
It started with an opening number, which Alison describes as “almost like a little dance” for her and Brady. Then there was an interview, and Alison then had to change into sports clothes for this part of the competition. Then came a ball gown and 4 or 5 inch heels. She changed three times in total.
“I don’t know how she made the moves with him,” said Beth Appleby, Alison’s mother.
And Brady was… kind of on the rise. He followed Alison through all the changes and took a few naps when he could, including under Alison’s dress and on stage when she was still. He even spoiled it a little.
“At one point, he winked at the judges, which killed everyone,” Alison explains. “I swear that sealed the deal for them.”
Courtesy of Tim Miller
Parents aren’t allowed behind the scenes, so Beth was glad Brady was there to care for her daughter and let others know if she was feeling sick. Alison was certainly grateful he was there too, but the contest also epitomized an overlooked side of owning a service dog.
They are beautiful animals that enhance and enrich the lives of their people, but they are also a huge liability to their masters. Alison must not only monitor her own well-being; she also has to make sure Brady gets everything he needs, be it food, water, rest, or bathroom breaks. There are times when she has to put him first, leaving social functions or her friends to make sure he’s okay.
It didn’t stop for the contest. In addition to keeping an eye on him, she had to coordinate her bathroom breaks with her mother, for example.
“It’s another life with me,” she says.
Prove his point
Not expecting to win, Alison was shocked to hear her name announced. When she celebrated with the rest of the contestants, Brady jumped up and down – a no-no service dog that we’ll overlook because he’s done so well otherwise.
“He was definitely a puppy then,” Alison says. “The whole show he was just a little show pup. It was adorable. He loved every ounce of it.”
And Alison more than proved her point. She and Brady will compete in the national pageant next May.
“It’s not your disease,” she said. “It’s just what you think.”
Anyway, kudos to that random lady who told Alison she couldn’t do it. Good start !