SOMA animal hospital welcomes pet patients

Photo: Chloe Jackman Studios

Earlier this year, SOMA Animal Hospital opened at the corner of Fourth and Channel streets in a space originally intended as a restaurant. The primary care facility is bright and airy, with five examination rooms, an operating theater, an operating room, an imaging room, treatment areas, and a pharmacy. It houses different rooms for dogs, cats and exotic animals: birds, reptiles, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and rats.

The hospital filled a geographic void for pet parents in east-central San Francisco neighborhoods who previously had to transport their pets to infirmaries at the Castro or the Mission. New veterinary hospitals are rare in the city. Castro Animal Hospital opened in 2019; before that, it had been nearly two decades since San Francisco’s last animal infirmary had opened.

Medical Director and Co-Owner Jayson Johnston was an Associate Veterinarian for five years at All Pets Hospital before launching SOMA Animal Hospital. He began his career as an intern with San Francisco Veterinary Specialists.

Curo Pet Care, a San Francisco-based veterinary services company, is the company’s other co-owner. As a family business, it invests its own funds – rather than taking in outside capital – to partner with veterinarians, with the goal of preserving the best small animal hospitals. Johnston was drawn to Curo’s business model because it goes against an industry trend.

“Veterinary medicine is moving towards corporate medicine,” Johnston said. “The current generation of practice owners do not sell to other veterinarians, but to corporations who pay more. For new vets, it’s hard to open a business from scratch, especially if you’re saddled with debt.

SOMA Animal Hospital offers medical exams, vaccinations, routine blood tests, dental care, nail trims, spaying and sterilizations, as well as routine surgeries, such as bladder surgery and amputation. Johnston’s team includes fellow veterinarian Dr. Barbara Wood, technicians, assistants and customer service representatives. He is looking for two additional full-time pet doctors and hopes to eventually increase to six veterinarians.

Johnston marketed his services by handing out flyers and homemade ice cream for dogs in parks. An open house in February generated additional buzz, with appointments quickly booked. Most pets today are residents of Mission Bay, South-of-Market, Potrero, and Dogpatch.

“I love this neighborhood because it’s so walkable and vibrant, and also family and pet-friendly,” said Johnston, a Dogpatch resident who bikes five minutes to the desk. “It’s really rewarding to feel like the neighborhood vet. Everyone can see you and you can serve as a local resource because you have the pulse of what’s going on in the neighborhood. Mental health, especially for my team members, is important. I want it to be a happy place for team members, pets and customers.

SOMA Animal Hospital is working towards a fearless certification this summer. Created by Dr. Marty Becker – “America’s Veterinarian” – the training aims to prevent and alleviate pet anxiety and stress through calming techniques that create a better experience for pets, parents and the care team . If completed, it would be the first veterinary hospital in San Francisco to achieve certification. First, pheromone diffusers are in place to help soothe anxious cats and dogs.

Benjamin M. Yerger