Alison Appleby proved her disability won't stop her, and Brady snuck in some on-stage naps when he wasn't charming the judges.
teen crowned winner of pageant with service dog at her side
Credit: Courtesy of Tim Miller

Imagine you're 17 years old, competing at your first pageant you only decided to enter a few weeks earlier. There's an opening number, interview questions, and quick outfit changes—which require scaling stairs in your high heels. Plus, you're doing all this with an 18-month-old golden retriever in tow.  

And you win. 

That's how Alison Appleby spent a Sunday earlier this month. She beat out six other contestants to earn the 2022 Miss Dallas Teen title alongside her service dog in training, Brady. 

He joined the Applebys last summer after Alison was diagnosed with epilepsy. He's a constant presence who keeps track of her stress and blood sugar. So when Alison donned her tiara, Brady got a crown—though he didn't care much for it.   

"They brought him a crown, which was hilarious," Alison tells Daily Paws. "That was the best thing ever. He hated it, but I thought it was adorable."

'You Can't Do That'

Alison entered the pageant to prove a point: that her disability wouldn't stop her from competing and enjoying herself. Some righteous spite—the best kind—played a role, too.  

Weeks before the pageant, she was chatting with a girl who'd entered the Miss Dallas pageant, the accompany pageant to Miss Dallas Teen. Alison, Brady next to her, mentioned she was interested in entering a pageant someday, and that's when an unknown woman sharing their table spoke up.  

"You can't do that 'cause you're disabled," Alison remembers her saying. 

At that point, the other girl urged Alison to sign up for Miss Dallas Teen.

"I signed up right there," Alison says. "Had no idea what I was doing." 

About three weeks later, the pageant arrived. Still a novice, Alison picked up her dresses the day before and made the trip to Richardson, Texas, about an hour south of her hometown of Sherman. Like always, Brady came, too. 

He's being trained to sense when Alison is unwell. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder most known for causing seizures, so Brady warns Alison if one is imminent. He also monitors her blood sugar and stress levels—which can trigger seizures when they're out of whack.  

He's also learning how to retrieve a snack from her bag, and if she's stressed, he'll actually sit on top of her, applying deep-pressure therapy that regulates her heart rate. 

Initially, Alison had planned to appear on stage without Brady, leaving him with a handler backstage. Sike! He sensed Alison was stressed, escaped the handler, and went to stand by her.

"We were like, 'OK, well that plan isn't going to work. He has to be next to me the whole time,'" Alison says. 


Pageants—and their rehearsals—seem designed to wear out contestants and service dogs alike. (Alison's day started at 4 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m.) 

It started with an opening number, which Alison describes as "almost like a little dance" for both her and Brady. Then there was an interview, and Alison then had to change into activewear for that portion of the competition. Then came a ball gown and the 4- or 5-inch heels. She changed three times total.

"I don't know how she did the steps in her heels with him," Beth Appleby, Alison's mom, says. 

And Brady was … kind of thriving. He followed Alison during all the changes and snuck in a few naps when he could, including under Alison's gown and on stage when she was standing still. He even hammed it up a bit. 

"At one point he winked at the judges, which killed everyone," Alison says. "I swear that sealed the deal for them."

service dog with teen who won the pageant
Credit: Courtesy of Tim Miller

Parents aren't allowed backstage, so Beth was glad Brady was there to look after her daughter and let others know if she was feeling ill. Alison was certainly thankful he was there, too, but the pageant also epitomized an overlooked facet of owning a service dog. 

They're lovely animals who improve and enrich their people's lives, but they're also a huge responsibility for their handlers. Alison not only has to monitor her own well-being; she also has to make sure Brady is getting everything he needs—whether it's food, water, rest, or bathroom breaks. There are times she has to put him first, leaving social functions or her friends to make sure he's all right.

That didn't stop for the pageant. Along with keeping an eye on him, she had to coordinate his pageant bathroom breaks with her mom, for example.   

"It's another life with me," she says.

Proving Her 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 service dog no-no we'll overlook because he otherwise did so well. 

"He was definitely being a puppy in that moment," Alison says. "Through the whole pageant, he was just a little pageant pup. It was adorable. He loved every ounce of it."

And Alison more than proved her point. She and Brady will compete in the statewide pageant this coming May.

"It's not your illness," she says. "It's just what you put your mind to." 

Anyway, shoutout to that random lady who told Alison she couldn't do it. Nice going!