March 30, 2009 09:13 PM

A host of animal-loving stars – including Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, CSI’s Marg Helgenberger and Bones star Emily Deschanel – came out Saturday night to celebrate animal rights and the Humane Society of the United States’ biggest night, the 23rd Genesis Awards, at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills.

DeGeneres and de Rossi, who are both vegan, were presented with the prestigious Wyler award, and the funny TV host took a moment to talk about the seriousness of saving animals.

“I called myself an animal lover and I ate them,” DeGeneres, who owns several rescue cats and dogs with partner de Rossi, said onstage. “It’s so much easier to say, ‘I can’t think about it, I don’t want to hear about it, it’s horrible.’ But we finally took the time to force ourselves to look at the reality. You can’t ignore it and say, ‘I want a cheeseburger so badly but I don’t want to look at that.’ “

The event – where guests dined on a gourmet vegan meal – also aimed to whip up more energy for the Humane Society’s Protect Seals campaign. Right now, points out America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker, the baby seal hunt is going on in Canada.

“We have already made a dent – the boycott [on Canadian seafood] has been going on for four years,” Barker, whose photos of the hunt were highlighted at the dinner, told PEOPLE Pets. “My photographs show the seals when they’re born, juxtaposed with the barbarity of the hunt.”

Heather Mills, an animal activist and ex-wife of Beatle Paul McCartney, drew attention to another cause. “We just got a ban through for 27 countries! The first unanimous ban to stop all dog and cat fur coming into Europe. So that’s why we’re celebrating tonight,” she said.

It was also a big night for Clyde, the canine star of the hit film Marley & Me. With cameras flashing, photographers yelling and celebrities all around, he seemed a bit overwhelmed. So he barked – loudly – and posed with a slew of eager fans.

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