Earlier this year SOMA Animal Hospital opened at the corner of Fourth and Channel streets in a space originally scoped to be a restaurant. The primary care facility is bright and airy, with five exam rooms, an operating theater, surgery suite, imaging room, treatment areas and pharmacy. It houses different wards for dogs, cats, and exotics: birds, reptiles, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rats.
The hospital filled a geographic gap for pet parents in San Frncisco’s central east neighborhoods, who previously had to transport their pets to infirmaries in the Castro or Mission. New animal hospitals are rare in the City. Castro Animal Hospital opened in 2019; before then it’d been almost two decades since the last animal infirmary in San Francisco opened.
Medical director and co-owner Jayson Johnston was an associate veterinarian for five years at All Pets Hospital prior to launching SOMA Animal Hospital. He started his career as an intern at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists.
San Francisco-based Curo Pet Care—a veterinary services company—is the enterprise’s other co-owner. As a family-owned firm, it invests its own funds—rather than taking outside capital—to partner with vets, with a goal of preserving the best small animal hospitals. Johnston was drawn to Curo’s business model because it bucks an industry trend.
“Veterinary medicine is moving towards corporate medicine,” said Johnston. “The current generation of practice owners aren’t selling to other vets, but to corporate entities that pay more. For new vets, it’s hard to open a business from scratch, especially if you’re strapped with debt.”
SOMA Animal Hospital offers physicals, vaccines, routine bloodwork, dental care, nail trims, spay and neuter, as well as common surgeries, such as bladder surgery and amputation. Johnston’s team includes fellow veterinarian Dr. Barbara Wood, technicians, assistants and client service representatives. He’s seeking two additional fulltime pet doctors and hopes to ultimately ramp up to six veterinarians.
Johnston marketed his services by distributing flyers and homemade ice cream for dogs at parks. An open house in February generated additional buzz, with appointments quickly made. Today, most pet patients are Mission Bay, South-of-Market, Potrero, and Dogpatch residents.
“I love this neighborhood because it’s so walkable and vibrant, and also family- and pet- focused,” said Johnston, a Dogpatch resident who bikes five minutes to get to the office. “It’s been truly rewarding to feel like the neighborhood veterinarian. Everyone can see you, and you can serve as the local resource because you have the pulse of what’s happening in the neighborhood. Mental health—particularly for my team members—is important. I want this to be a happy place to be for team members, pets, and clients.”
SOMA Animal Hospital is working towards fear-free 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, pet parents and the care team. If completed, it’d be the first San Francisco animal hospital to secure certification. As an initial step, pheromone diffusers are in place to help soothe anxious cats and dogs.