Dr. Orville Walls, who has had a veterinary practice in Germantown for 37 years, had to overcome racism both here in Philadelphia and in the deep South. Here he holds one of his many lovable patients, a Teddy Bear Pomeranian. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Dr. Orville Walls, who has had a veterinary practice in Germantown for 37 years, had to overcome racism both here in Philadelphia and in the deep South. Here he holds one of his many lovable patients, a Teddy Bear Pomeranian. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by JB Hyppolite

Some of our most compelling human interest features come to us by way of phone calls and letters from loyal readers. For example, Judy Rubin of Mt. Airy wrote to us a few months ago about Dr. Orville Walls, a long-time veterinarian in Germantown. Here is just a part of what Judy wrote: “He is so unusual and unpretentious. He has common sense, experience, a great sense of humor and a natural wisdom about animals …

“The cost was half the price of all the other vets we called. He is loving, remembers names of animals and owners and has an office full of waiting clients on Saturday mornings starting almost at the crack of dawn. He did not charge us for a couple of subsequent visits, nor did he charge for medicine that he concocts right there. He does not nickel-and-dime you, and has an old-time practice in a cluttered, funky office, and I don’t think there is anyone like him. Our cats weren’t even afraid to go in!

“One gets the sense that Dr. Walls is far more wise than his years would suggest. He engages my grandchild as well, who always leaves chattering on about something the doctor said or did that sparked her interest. He’s an amazing healer who connects with the animal through touch, by truly ‘listening’ through the owner, through experience and via the fact that he’s simply a very astute scientist. And if you should happen to bump into him in Mt. Airy, don’t be surprised if he asks about your pet by name.”

It is an astonishing achievement, but us.justdial.com, a website that claims to have customer evaluations on almost 2.3 million businesses, has posted on its website that it has received 130 evaluations of Dr. Walls and that every single one is “5 stars, Excellent,” the highest possible rating.

The beloved veterinarian has been at the Greene Street Animal Clinic, 5523 Greene St. for 37 years. “When you’re an only child raised on a farm, your playmates are the dogs and cats and horses and cows,” said Dr. Walls, who grew up in Kennett Square, Chester County.

Dr. Walls’ father introduced him to a veterinarian who worked at Delaware State University and who took an interest in the young man and gave him a virtual tutorial in his animal practice. “I was very impressed, and that stayed with me. I was exposed to all the animals, and I liked playing with them,” said Dr. Walls, who had 27 hunting dogs, 10 cows, a horse and 52 chickens on his childhood farm.

Dr. Walls attributes his longevity to his adherence to a set of very basic principles. “Well, it’s treating people right and treating their animals right. You have to have a love for it, but the animals have to feel it as well, so I try to exude that feeling to the pets that come in here, even the dogs that want to bite me.”

Although there have been times when a dog was hostile, Dr. Walls would solve that problem by talking kindly to the dog and having him/her come to sniff his hand and legs, and soon the pooch would begin to relax. What about cats? “Cats are different. They have a mind of their own,” said Dr. Walls, who has also treated horses and goats. (He mentioned that there used to be a goat farm on Allens Lane.)

When Dr. Walls meets an animal who is a problem to treat, he notices it’s usually because the owner and the pet are inseparable, as if the pet is the owner’s child. He makes sure to ask about that relationship when speaking with a patient’s human family. “You just have to be careful and treat them all with respect. It’s the respect that wins them over.”

Dr. Walls attended the only black veterinarian school in the world at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. Walls and other African American students were not permitted to enroll at nearby Auburn University’s Veterinary School because of segregationist Jim Crow laws.

But Dr. Walls played a role in the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 3, 1963.

“I was in Birmingham, Alabama when they sicced the dogs on us. That front line — the next time you ever see a picture of it — you will see that the front line was all veterinary students.”

Dr. Walls earned his B.S. in Animal Husbandry and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Tuskegee University and started practicing after he graduated in 1969. He returned to Philadelphia and made house calls from his car all day. Dr. Walls unfortunately had to face some potential clients who were reluctant to see him because he’s black.

“’My dogs don’t like colored people,’ they would say. I would remind them very quickly, ‘It’s not the dogs who don’t like colored people; it’s you who don’t like colored people.’ Dogs would come up to me, and I would put my hands on them, and they would come to me before they’d go back to the owners … Sometimes I would charge them four times the usual amount … for ignorance. Those dogs are color-blind,” said Dr. Walls, accompanied by a warmth of sarcastic humor.

Dr. Walls loves Philadelphia, but there were some areas where he had to let the owner know his race before visiting, namely Fishtown, the Northeast and South Philadelphia. Dr. Walls described those areas as predominantly white neighborhoods where he had to slowly “gain acceptance” for treating the animals.

Dr. Walls, who did not want to talk about his age or his family, attended Kennett Square High School and graduated from Lincoln University in 1963 with a B.S. in mathematics, science and chemistry. He also earned a Masters degree in biomedical engineering from Drexel University.

For information about Dr. Walls’ office hours, call 215-849-0117.