a marvel way resident with her two pet dogs, sitting at a firepit outside the supportive apartment complex

Something to BARK About! How Pets Make a Difference at Marvel Way

Did you know? About a third of Marvel Way’s residents are living alongside their furry friends. We’re home to 9 cats and 9 dogs – and expect these numbers to continue to climb. It’s just one of the many ways we stand out from the affordable housing and recovery pack.

Why did Marvel Way become home to so many animals? How does having pets benefit our residents in recovery? And what are we doing to support them?

Keep reading to find out more:

a marvel way resident with her two pet dogs, sitting at a firepit outside the supportive apartment complex

Shelters & Animals

For individuals struggling with homelessness and addiction who already have pets, their animals can become just one more barrier to getting the help they need. Most shelters and programs don’t allow them, which sometimes means staying on the streets feels better than leaving one’s best friend behind. On top of that, once sobriety is achieved, low-income individuals in recovery often have multiple hurdles in their searches for long term housing, including histories of incarceration and eviction. While there’s countless benefits to living with pets, they can unfortunately introduce a challenging extra step to the apartment hunt.

Supporting Pet Ownership

Once our residents settle into stable housing, getting a pet can be a big step to making things feel a bit more like home. However, sometimes residents get so excited about their pets that they don’t recognize the new responsibilities they will bring. In Marvel Way’s early months, TEC Director of Community Development Yvette Myers spoke to a resident who had gotten a puppy, despite working long days, and started to see the support that’s needed. “It’s just that they don’t know,” she explained. “They get pets because they just want to have something.” Instead of saying “absolutely not” like so many housing programs would, Yvette helped the resident out with a kennel, bedding, dog food, and vaccinations. THAT’S HOW THE MARVEL WAY PETS PROGRAM BEGAN.

At Marvel Way, we’re all about identifying our residents’ needs and building programs around them. So, to launch our pet program, we decided to do just that.

Marvel Way residents are allowed pets, with similar size and breed restrictions to other apartment complexes in town. We understand the therapeutic benefits of having pets and want to support our residents. To do this, we offer both scheduled support and as-needed assistance. We schedule vaccination and neutering days, when the SPCA comes in to take care of a few residents’ pets at once. Additionally, when residents tell us they’re out of work or struggling financially, we talk to the Katie Grace Foundation to connect them with pet food and other donated supplies. We’re working with a University of Tennessee program (more on that in a moment) to connect residents with free veterinary care. And we’ve also noticed collaborative pet care popping up – a resident who’s often home helps out with walks, supporting neighbors working long hours away from their pups.

Why Pets Matter

Simply put – life can be ruff – and encouraging responsible pet ownership can make the difference. While only some of Marvel Way’s pets are registered as Emotional Support Animals, we know all can provide significant benefits. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “The unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. Pets may also decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills.” The evidence shows they can help their humans cope with everything from anxiety disorders to ADHD, autism, and even cancer.

Says Psychology Today, “Petting, holding, or cuddling an animal increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine in our bodies, which are feel-good, calming brain chemicals. As a result of these positive chemical changes, our feelings of depression and loneliness may be reduced while our self-esteem and happiness may increase.”

We think pets are the perfect fit for people in recovery – and the research agrees. Taking care of a pet is a great way to practice responsibility, gain self-confidence, and provide a sense of purpose. They help us become more social and more physically active. 86% of Americans say having a pet has a positive impact on their mental health. They can even be seen as “life savers.”

Partnering with the University of Tennessee

Like Marvel Way’s supportive housing model, our support of pets is just as new an idea. So, when the University of Tennessee’s Program for Pet Equity Health Equity reached out to us about doing a study, of course we agreed. Their research mission is “to understand the impacts from lack of access to veterinary care on communities, families, and animals care teams.” Their work also includes supporting underserved families and educational opportunities.

In the study, they’re surveying Marvel Way Residents about why they want pets, what resources would help them provide better care, and how they’re benefiting from their relationships with animals. Participation is completely voluntary, but residents who fill out the initial and follow-up surveys for a 6-month period are awarded with a series of gift cards. We hope the survey’s results (to be published in a University of Tennessee White Paper) will help guide not only the Marvel Way Pet Program, but the development of similar programs nationwide.

What’s Next?

When it comes to pets at Marvel Way, we’re just getting started!

As we work towards completing Marvel Way Phase II, we’re fundraising to add a Dog Park to the apartment complex. We aim to add a fenced-in dog run, alongside a shaded BBQ zone, playground, and community garden. The outdoor area will become a centralized gathering space, reenforcing the social benefits of pet ownership as we build our recovery community.

Just as we’ve including Equine Therapy for our Empowerment Center Clients, we’re looking to bring more animal companionship to Marvel Way. At The Empowerment Center, thanks to our partnership with Reno Rescue, our women in recovery enjoy riding and grooming horses while improving their emotional regulation, self-confidence, and sense of responsibility. Similarly, we hope to partner with an animal shelter to encourage beneficial connections between residents and animals needing support.