BOSTON — FOR as long as she can remember, Babette Lewyt has loved animals. Growing up in France, she would often take in stray dogs and cats, earning her the nickname "Saint Babette."
So it's no surprise that today, Mrs. Lewyt is celebrating more than two decades as head of what is widely regarded as the most successful pet-adoption center in the world, the North Shore Animal League (NSAL).
Based in Port Washington, N.Y., NSAL has revolutionized the way animal shelters do business, from promoting adoption to offering low-cost services.
During the weekend of May 4-5, NSAL's leadership continues with a Pet Adopt-A-Thon involving more than 700 animal shelters in the United States, Canada, England, and India. NSAL expects the event to yield homes for up to 55,000 orphans.
Mrs. Lewyt and her late husband, Alex, took over the animal league 25 years ago when it was foundering. Mr. Lewyt's business fortunes (vacuum sales, among other things) as well as his advertising and fund-raising savvy allowed the couple to develop a high standard of practice, including a "no-kill" policy. "My husband was such a great businessman. He was in the office and I was in the pen-house," Mrs. Lewyt says.
Before taking over NSAL, Lewyt started small by rescuing dogs who were about to be put to death at the local pound and finding them homes. Later, her station-wagon pickups and adoptions led to NSAL.
In 1969, NSAL placed 129 homeless pets. In 1994, it placed more than 30,000, and spent $3 million helping other shelters. Recently it has been importing puppies from overpopulated shelters in other states.
Prospective pet adopters are screened much the way a child's adoptive parents are screened. The league's adoption center, veterinary hospital, and other facilities are open 365 days a year.
Other organizations that have gained notice for their success with adoptions and low-cost or no-cost sterilization services include the San Francisco SPCA, Friends of Animals (Darien, Conn.), and shelters in such cities as San Diego and San Jose, Calif.