Dr. Orville R. Walls, 76, Philly vet who treated ‘all creatures great and small’

In the field of veterinary medicine, where specialization is increasingly the norm, Dr. Orville R. Walls stood out as an old-school general practitioner.

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Dr. Orville R. Walls with a furry patient.

Dogs, cats, cougars, chimpanzees, snakes, skunks, cows, and horses–  Dr. Walls, a veritable Dr. Doolittle of the animal world, treated them all. And what’s more, if their human caretakers were frail or infirm, he made house calls.

“He took care of all creatures great and small,” said Haverford veterinarian Reginald Royster, who considered Dr. Walls a mentor. “He came from that old-school tradition of the community vet. He definitely had the calling.”

Dr. Walls, 76, of Philadelphia, a longtime veterinarian in Germantown who treated his animal patients with compassion and their human owners with kindness, died Wednesday, Sept. 6, of cancer at his home.

“As far as I’m concerned, he was just a very nice person – a great vet – but always a nice person,” Royster said. “Nobody I know ever said a bad word about him.”

In 1976, Dr. Walls opened a private practice at the Greene Street Animal Clinic in the 5500 block of Greene St. and never retired. Animal owners flocked to his office and returned over the decades because they loved him and trusted him with their pets.

When news of his death surfaced, 93 animal owners posted their remembrances online at www.facebook.com/GreeneStreetAnimalClinic.

“Dr. Walls was our vet for Caleb, Becky, and Charlie,” wrote Beth Gross-Eskin. “He was the best, and we totally trusted his knowledge, care and wisdom. He was such a nice person, always showing interest in our doggies, but also took a personal interest in us.”

Although Dr. Walls limited his practice mostly to companion animals such as dogs and cats beginning in 1986, his overall approach mirrored the do-it-all tradition of the British veterinary surgeon James Herriot, author of “All Creatures Great and Small.”

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Dr. Orville R. Walls with a cougar, or mountain lion, before exotics were outlawed in Pennsylvania as pets. He was comfortable treating an assortment of animals.

Raised an only child on a farm in Kennett Square, Dr. Walls looked upon cows and horses as playmates. As an adult, he welcomed them as patients and even spent time as the doctor to a Philadelphia Police K-9 Unit, his family said.

The son of Orville R. Walls Sr., a physician, and Thelma Bracy Walls, a housewife, Dr. Walls graduated in 1959 from Kennett Consolidated School.

He followed in the footsteps of his father by attending Lincoln University and joining Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. While at Lincoln, he began dating Yvette Sills, who became his wife in 1962.  The following year, Dr. Walls graduated from Lincoln, with a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry and biology.

For a while, Dr. Walls seemed headed for a career as a cancer researcher; he worked in the anatomy laboratory at Einstein Hospital, Southern Division. He had just completed a master’s degree in biomedical engineering when a veterinarian friend of his father offered a tutorial in animal practice.

“I was very impressed, and that stayed with me,” Dr. Walls told the Chestnut Hill Local in 2013.

He applied to the veterinary school at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, one of the few veterinary schools open to African Americans, and graduated in 1969 with a bachelor of science in animal husbandry and a doctor of veterinary medicine.

He performed an internship at the LeFlore County Veterinary Hospital in Poteau, Okla., before moving back to the Philadelphia area in 1969. He was the third black veterinarian to become licensed to practice in Pennsylvania. The first was Dr. Carl M. Cousins, the second, Dr. Dean Hodges. Both died last year.

To raise his professional profile, Dr. Walls worked with the Pennsylvania SPCA and the 4-H Club. He held several jobs simultaneously, assisting other veterinarians at the Bustleton Avenue Animal Hospital, O’Neal Animal Hospital, Morris Animal Refuge, and ChelWayne Animal Hospital.

Josephine Thomas was 13 when Dr. Walls worked from the latter office on Wayne Avenue in Germantown. “Back then, it was awesome to have a young African-American vet in the neighborhood,” she wrote online.

Dr. Walls never stopped making house calls for the animals of those who were ill, elderly, shut-in, victims of violence, or afflicted with the AIDS virus, his family said.

His demeanor calmed the most agitated dog. He simply let the pooch sniff his legs and hands until it relaxed. “Cats are different. They have a mind of their own,” Dr. Walls told the Local.

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A plaque given to Dr. Walls in March 2017.

Dr. Walls received numerous accolades and awards throughout his career. In March 2017, the Alumni Association of Lincoln University’s Chester County Chapter gave him its distinguished achievement award.

When not caring for animals, Dr. Walls volunteered in his community where he was sometimes referred to jokingly as the “mayor of Germantown.” He was generous with his friendship and encouragement.

A man of faith, he embodied love, laughter, commitment, generosity, and dedication. His passions were animals, cars, cake and pie, travel, and spending time with family.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Yvette S. Walls; children Orville R. Walls III, Kathleen E. Walls, and Brian K. Walls.

A memorial service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, at Greene Street Friends School Meeting House, 45 W. School House Lane, Philadelphia. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, attn: Donor Services, 100 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106.

You can find the complete original obituary on this website.

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