Nothing should stop you from chasing your dreams!
Live Oak native Cody Ray Lee and dog born deaf go on to create new category at NRS Championships
Cody Ray Lee, left, with brother Jared Lewis Lee and Hangin’ Tree Cowdog Batman just before the competition that created a new category at NRS Championships. -Photo Submitted
By Tami Stevenson
Cody Ray Lee was born in Live Oak 35 years ago to Jesse Lee and Rhonda (Lee) Mitchell. He is a fifth generation cowboy and cattleman. But he was different than his brother Jared Lewis Lee, who is a year his senior. Cody was born with Cerebral Palsy and has been bound to a wheelchair his entire life; but he nor his family ever let that stop him. Jared was always at his brother’s side.
“From pushing him around the bases of the handicap T-ball to walking him to his class room at school, we were destined to share our lives!” Exclaimed Jared. “At birthday party’s my friends and I would play football in the cow pasture and we would make sure he got him several touchdown runs by (them) tilting his chair back and running past the defense as we would all take turns diving and missing the tackle to see him go to the end zone and score! From driving tractor, training dogs and horses, to cutting horse shows and cow dog shows we have shared it all.”
Jared told the Suwannee Valley Times that his family, for the entire five generations of ranching, have always handled their cattle with dogs. So, almost naturally, Jared Lee became a trainer. He trains cattle dogs and holds clinics and demonstrations all over the country. He also was a 2019 Ultimate Cowboy Showdown contestant with Trace Adkins on the INSP network, until he got his leg broke on the show by a bull.
“It was a cowboy competition and I got eliminated by default.”
The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown is a story in itself and was covered by the Suwannee Democrat in 2019.
In September of 2017 they had a puppy they named Batman. He was born deaf. Instead of putting him down – going against the recommendation of the veterinarian - they chose to give him a great life just as with Cody.
“I couldn’t put the dog down. The vet said there was no cure. It’s dangerous having a deaf dog. If you spook him wrong, he can turn around and bite you because he doesn’t hear you coming. All this stuff.” But Jared said, “My daddy didn’t cull my little brother, and I’m not culling this dog.” He added, “But little did we know that God had even bigger plans!”
In the beginning Jared was training him with hand signals, but low and behold, when Batman was between six and seven months old, he received his hearing. Jared said they were penning some cows and Batman was doing his thing like normal, helping, then all of a sudden, he just fell to the ground, looking around like he was scared. He was shaking. Jared thought he had gotten into a nest of ground hornets or something. As they finished up with the cows, Batman went and laid down by himself.
After they finished penning the cows Jared started the 4 wheeler. Batman was at least 50 yards away and normally wouldn’t respond to the sound of the vehicle, but Jared noticed he picked his head up. At first he thought the dog was feeling the vibrations. He shut the 4 wheeler off, then just gave a whistle – Batman’s ears turned. So he whistled again and patted his leg, which was the command to come.
“He came, and from that day forward, he’s got like super hearing now. You can almost whisper and be 100 yards away and he will take the command. It is unbelievable,” Jared exclaimed.
Today, Batman is a registered Hangin’ Tree Cowdog and last year, won reserve world champion at the 5th Annual Hangin’ Tree Cowdog Futurity at NRS Ranch in Decatur, Texas. Jared’s broken leg was still healing from the May 10, 2019 bull incident while filming the TV show, but he worked and continued Batman’s training from a wheelchair until his leg healed in order to enter him in the October 2019 competition. Little did they know he would be back this year on October 18, 2020, with Cody Ray Lee to create an entirely new category in the NRS competition.
Cody Ray Lee with Batman at the NRS Ranch, just before the event. -Photo: Submitted
For the first time ever, the NRS created a handicapped class they called American Ranch Dog Novice Competition. Cody was the only competitor as this was a first for everyone. With Jared pushing him around the field, he successfully completed the course with Batman penning all of the cattle. A video is available on Jared Lewis Lee Facebook page.
Jared said the NRS is working and talking with them about starting this new class. They want to call it the Assisted Novice Championship and would be a class open to handicapped people only, and would provide a dog trainer and a dog for anyone that would like to participate.
“They can take them out there prior to the shows and get familiar with the trainer and the dog. There would be a first place winner, so they have to bring their A game, but everyone would get a buckle for participating.” Jared said.
Jared talked about birth defects in people – that with the technology today, doctors can tell if babies have any defects in the womb and they advise the mother to abort the baby if they are severe.
“I disagree with abortion of any kind. I just think it’s wrong. You know, look, this is my little brother, Cody. He can work with me everyday.”
When Jared decided to move to Picayune, Mississippi seven years ago, to be closer to his wife, Beth’s family, they took Cody with them. Today, they have five children. Colt is eleven, Lucien and his twin sister, Lilly are seven, Sawyer is five and the youngest is Harper; she is three. The kids are very close to Cody, says Jared.
“For him, my kids are his best friends. He loves me, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just his big brother; my kids are his best friends.” He said the kids help take Cody’s shoes off, put his socks on, make him drinks and get his toothbrush ready for him. “It has been such a gift to watch my children grow up with him because they see me and my wife taking care of him and they just jump in there. ‘Uncle Cody, do you need this or that?’ They play games and do arts and crafts with him.”
The Lee family, Cody, left with Jared, Beth, their five children and Batman. -Photo: Submitted
He doesn’t receive any government funding like disability, although many have said he should, that he would certainly qualify. Jared said as long as he is able to put food on the table and provide for his family he refuses to ask for government funding.
“That money is there for folks that can’t. We can. I work twice as hard to make sure we can, so someone else who needs it can use that money. If I couldn’t support my wife and my family I would reach out for government funding, but I can support them. Without God we wouldn’t have anything.” He said, “But we don’t even have a handicap parking sticker for Cody. I can push my brother, there’s no reason for me to have to park in a handicap spot.”
“When we did this on (October 18), we didn’t know why we were doing it, but Cody’s been bound to that wheelchair since birth.” After seeing him perform with Batman in the competition, someone called Jared to tell him about a wheelchair called Action Trackchair. “It’s like a bulldozer,” he exclaimed. “You can go anywhere and it can stand him up. Cody helps me work cows but he’s only able to be in one spot. Because he can’t push himself through the dirt and all. This chair will make it where with our cow working business, he’s going to actually be able to go back and forth and help. Now, he doesn’t come in with the cattle, he is outside the fence and will be able to help push them up.” The chair is expensive and Jared didn’t know how they would be able to afford to get one. “But somebody reached out and started a GoFundMe page for Cody to get his track chair.”
Another friend, Whitney Gainer from HGTV’s Open Concept, took it upon herself to call Action Trackchair on Cody’s behalf. The company was talking with them about getting Cody a chair but just before this story went to print, Jared said that fell through, although their GoFundMe page had already raised nearly $5,000 by the time this story went to print and Cody’s pursuit of his dream is becoming a reality with every donation. Here is the URL, https://www.gofundme.com/f/cowboy-cody.
Jared added, “On October 18, 2020, in a year when we needed to see Gods work more then ever and be reminded of his grace, these two miracles came together (Cody and Batman). In a world when folks are told they can’t do something because they aren’t quite built right or don’t posses the proper tools, with God, the help of Jenson Gainer, Jason Terrel and the support of a strong Christian family, Cody Ray Lee and Batman have proved that nothing should stop anyone from chasing their dreams!”
Group photo at the NRS Ranch, Cody Ray Lee is in the center. -Photo: Submitted