03/30/2008 AT 5:00 PM ET
Hayden received the Gretchen Wyler Award, given annually at the Genesis Awards to a celebrity who brings attention to animal causes. Wyler, who founded the awards and was also an actress, died last May from breast cancer, two months after presenting the first award to Paul McCartney.
Hayden s parents and her boyfriend – and Heroes costar – Milo Ventimiglia were in the audience and watched a video of the actress and others paddling out on surfboards and confronting fishermen, who trap and kill dolphins to protect their fish supply. They then gave a standing ovation as Hayden took the stage.
“As an actress, you always dream of getting awards like the Golden Globe award, but I never expected to get an award that is this special and important to me as this,” Hayden said through tears. “There are people who dedicate their entire lives to preserving the environment and defending animals, they are so much more deserving of something like this.”
After the brief speech, she went straight from the stage to the bathroom for several minutes to regain her composure, and then was escorted back to her seat by Ventimiglia.
Hayden skipped the afterparty, having to return in the morning to shooting the movie I Love You, Beth Cooper. Panettiere stars in the Chris Columbus comedy, being shot in Vancouver.
“She s an inspiring example to her generation, using her compassion, courage and celebrity to help animals in a very effective way, said Beverly Kaskey, Senior Director of the Humane Society s Hollywood Office.
Other celebrity attendees included Emily Deschanel, Eric Roberts, Bill Maher and Anderson Cooper.
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