Keep celebrating the good life & great stories and supporting local businesses
Subscribe today to have Macon Magazine delivered to your home
Categories: APRIL/MAY 2024, COMMUNITY & NEWS, cover story, HEALTH

People & Pets: Unleashing Healthcare

Story by Jami Gaudet | Photos by Jessica Whitley

She was a born pet lover with a heart for people, the little girl who preferred stuffed animals to dolls and relished spending Saturdays searching for lost dogs and picking up trash. With a sunny disposition and dogged determination, she built careers — first, in public policy for California Governor Gray Davis, then, as a nurse practitioner and physician assistant, and since 2018, as founder and president of People and Pets Project, an innovative non-profit providing “safe, welcoming, healthcare for both ends of the leash.”

Janet Hendrickson couldn’t have landed in a better place than Macon to meld her healthcare savvy and ardor for four-legged creatures. Macon’s animal shelter remains full, necessitating euthanasia for population control despite the unwavering efforts of Macon-Bibb Animal Services; its offshoot, Bondable Pups; and a constellation of local rescue groups that champion the cause of dogs and cats. People in Macon love their pets, and People and Pets helps them stay healthy.


Janet moving briskly forward with their four dogs: Maggie, Fletcher, Lucy, and Winston.


Terrible luck and serendipity brought Janet and her husband, Dr. Henry (Hank) Schwartz, a physician and Air Force reservist, to Macon.

On October 8, 2017, Janet and Hank lost everything. California’s Tubbs Fire, the Golden State’s most destructive and expensive inferno ever, claimed 22 lives and 4,600 homes, including theirs, along with their three goats and six chickens. Miraculously, the couple and their four dogs escaped the flames and cheated death.

Janet recalls no warning or hint their area was in danger. But inexplicably, she awoke in the middle of the night, peered out their bedroom window, and saw the next ridge ablaze. She, Hank, and their dogs fled.

Two years after the disaster, Janet, a go-getter with a B.S. and master’s in nursing and B.A. in journalism and public relations, launched the People and Pets Project (PPP) in Sacramento, California, where she, Hank, and their menagerie resettled after the fire.

Fate intervened again in 2019. The military offered Hank an opportunity as Deputy Division Chief, Aerospace and Operational Medicine at Headquarters Air Force Reserve at Robins Air Force Base — and then the pandemic struck.

“A few months after I arrived, COVID-19 hit, which was a great opportunity to meet people.” If it sounds counter-intuitive that anyone would perceive the pandemic as an opportunity to foster relationships, they don’t know Janet, who says earnestly, “We were lucky. We made great friends early on in Macon,” quipping, “but it had to be six feet apart.”

Unexpectedly, during those early months, the couple fell hard for Macon, deciding to make it their permanent home. Janet jokes, “You’re stuck with us.”

But while Janet and Hank’s social life blossomed during COVID, her attempt to launch People and Pets stalled. Undeterred, after spying more than 30 cats roaming around Columbus Avenue behind the Bear’s Den restaurant, Janet pivoted to reducing Middle Georgia’s feral cat population with her first local initiative: Mousers in the Middle. To date, Mousers in the Middle has spayed or neutered and vaccinated 501 of Central Georgia’s feral felines.


Veterinarian Dr. Brendan Bergquist of Auburn University and S.A.F.E. vet tech Janae Matthews volunteer with PPP alongside other well-qualified providers.


As the pandemic eased, Janet began meeting people in Macon’s animal and medical community. In April 2021, she funded and unleashed the first One Health Fair with Habitat for Humanity to address the well-being of Maconites and the pets they love. One Health is a collaborative approach to healthcare capitalizing on the powerful bond between people and their pets to exact better outcomes for both. 

From there, People and Pets partnered with the local organization Macon Mental Health Matters to host pop-up clinics in local parks. But as PPP grew, so too did its need for a rain-or-shine home base, so Janet accepted Habitat for Humanity’s offer to use its community room for clinics.

Always seeking to extend its reach, in February 2024, PPP conducted its first and biggest clinic at the Macon-Bibb County Health Department’s new facility on Forsyth Street with 53 pets and 44 owners. According to Janet, “What we do is public health, and PPP is a great way to teach people about [the Health Department’s] services.”



Janet is a natural collaborator. Professional proof is the PPP board — 13 members, 10 women, three men, five in Middle Georgia and seven elsewhere, including California and Alaska. Three California-based board members have ties to the University of California, Davis (UCD), home of the One Health Institute, where the One Health concept originated.

The assembled talent reads like a list of “Who’s Who” — doctors, lawyers, and healthcare professionals who, like Janet, are driven to advocate for underserved populations and their animal friends. Janet explains, “I started the board in California, not knowing I was moving to Georgia or that there would be a pandemic.” The ability to host board meetings via Zoom bridged the distance.

In Macon, Hendrickson is a veritable pied piper, assembling a dream team of medical professionals for PPP. Dr. Patrick Roche, a physician who retired from the Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) connected Janet with medical school students who staff PPP clinics. Besides gaining clinical experience, Janet stresses, “The students learn about social issues while talking to the people they screen. Pets are great icebreakers.”

Keisha Renee Callins, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Community Health Care Systems, doubles as a professor at MUSM and calls her chance meeting with Janet “divine providence.” Both women saw partnership potential; Dr. Callins scored an invitation for Janet to speak to the Rotary Club of Macon, which paved the way for a grant.

Based in Twiggs and Jones County, Dr. Callins brings two perspectives to the mix — healthcare for women and for rural areas. Recently appointed to the PPP board, she gushes about the dual clinic concept. “I enjoy building bridges. We engage people in their health through their pets, so they want to do the right thing for their pets and for themselves. We focus on what people value, and PPP helps them value their own health. That’s the medical side.”

Dr. Callins continues, “It’s also a wonderful way to teach future practitioners about service to the community and how to meet people where they are, which promotes trust. For those who don’t have a physician or need follow-up, we provide recommendations. If they don’t have health insurance, we recommend Community Health Care Systems, First Choice Primary Care, and the Macon Volunteer Clinic,”where low- or no-cost services lower barriers.


Janet and Hank Hendrickson


Janet’s biggest supporter is her husband, Hank, an Air Force Colonel on assignment at Robins. He employs his skills with policy, organization, and training regularly at the People and Pets clinics. Hank clarifies his role, saying, “The medical students perform the screenings. I’m there as a mentor, providing real-time technical oversight. We discuss the significance of their findings and the clinical ramifications which we tie to what they’re studying in medical school.”

Janet appreciates the dual benefits for med students. “While providing basic healthcare checks, they’re honing their communication skills. People and Pets is less intimidating than a medical setting which can change the dynamic [between] healthcare provider [and] patient.”

A woman named Sharmaine Thomas and her dog visited the February clinic at the Health Department. Although she came for her pet, she learned about her own health. “As a prediabetic, I knew my numbers were up, but the screening made me more aware of what I need to do for myself.” And that’s the point.


Health screenings at PPP clinics are a straightforward process enacted with efficiency and compassion.


People and Pets clinics operate on a first come, first served basis for two-and-a-half hours. Each twofold, straightforward visit averages 20 – 30 minutes.

After registration, the medical students screen for blood pressure and glucose, two big areas of health that tax the system, according to Janet. “Probably one-third of the people we screen have high blood pressure, known as the silent killer. Many with Medicare don’t realize there are preventative care and programs available.” The medical students field questions, discuss healthcare options and availability, and provide an after-care summary which includes vital signs and where to pursue follow-up care, if needed.    

After the pet parent visit, veterinarians (and soon, veterinary students) administer vaccines, microchip pets, provide pet food, flea and tick treatment, and any other supplies PPP has in stock at the time. It could be a winter coat, leash, or pet collar. And while this visit doesn’t replace full-service veterinary care, the veterinarians treat minor ailments like ear or skin infections.

Dr. Devyn Seifert, senior veterinarian at PAWS Humane Society in Columbus, Georgia, has been volunteering with People and Pets for more than a year and loves it enough to make the trip regularly. “It’s a perfect scenario. We provide fast-paced, bulk wellness care. We vaccinate, trim nails, and perform an exam.”



People and Pets had a string of wins in early 2024. Janet was invited to join the American Animal Hospital Association’s expert task force, which creates One Health guidelines. PPP held its first clinic outside Macon at the Twiggs County Elementary School — the first of two clinics scheduled in Twiggs for 2024, as Janet says, “based on Dr. Callins’ connection and because rural Twiggs County needs it.” Janet made her foray into the veterinary world, addressing the Shelter Medicine and Public Health Clubs at the University of Georgia Veterinary School.

For Janet, there is always new ground to cover and progress to be made. “We want to present at conferences to enlighten human healthcare professionals about the clinical One Health concept. We can put together toolkits and help other communities implement a program like ours, which is our long-term goal.”

2024 is the year that People and Pets will glean definitive information about the effects and benefits of dual healthcare through a joint study with Mercer University and University of California, Davis, analyzing the data received from surveys PPP participants complete at the end of their visit.



In 2014 Janet trekked to Guatemala for a month to work at a clinic and take Spanish lessons. While there she reasoned that the One Health approach had applicability for the Central American republic.

She returned to Guatemala in 2019, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of subsequent trips. Back on track, Janet and a team of volunteers head to Antigua, Guatemala June 24-28 to restart One Health clinics. A veterinary lead from the Atlanta Humane Society will be in tow to spay and neuter dogs and cats.

Openings remain for general volunteers and medical and veterinary professionals. The discounted price is $1,195, which includes lodging, transfers, most meals, and travel in Guatemala. Volunteers pay their own airfare.

Janet says People and Pets is fortunate to partner with Heart of Travel, a female-owned agency that provides invaluable “in country” knowledge and expertise. “They’re vital to the planning and execution of our trips. I couldn’t pull this off without them.”



“For many people, especially in underserved communities, a pet is a lifeline,” Janet asserts.

“Socioeconomic status shouldn’t determine whether or not you have a pet, and often, a pet is all that a person has. You can’t put a price on love.”

Circumstances vary in these situations. Janet contends, “Sometimes the pet is a stray they’ve taken in to prevent it from starving and don’t want to bring it to a shelter where it risks being euthanized. Or the shelter is full. Macon lacks the resources to address the companion animal overpopulation problem, so PPP fills a need. The care we provide helps people deal with the daily stress of their lives while we use their pets as a means of screening them.”

People and Pets has always existed through donations, and in 2024 it received a generous grant from the Atrium Navicent Health Foundation. Janet is grateful for the support and says, “To my knowledge, it’s the first grant that encompasses veterinary care and human health endeavors, which is exciting.”

Janet Hendrickson calls PPP “a vehicle matching my skill set and passion that helps people who need it. I’m proud we’re in the community on a regular basis.”

The nonprofit’s creative spark is trumpeted in its aspirational vision statement: “People & Pets envisions a world where the health of people is optimized through the health of the pets they love. No one should have to choose between healthcare for their best friend and themselves.”