updated 01/20/2009 AT 3:17 PM ET
•originally published 01/16/2009 AT 7:45 AM ET
Like many animal lovers out there, when Ellen DeGeneres was a kid she thought she’d become a veterinarian. “Then I realized what that entailed and that broke my heart,” the comedian tells PEOPLE. That didn’t stop the TV host from doing amazing work with animals. She consistently profiles pet heroes on her show, works with various animal charities, and dotes on the five furry pals that live in her own home (she and wife Portia de Rossi have two dogs and three cats). And, last year she became part owner of the all-natural pet food company Halo Purely for Pets, which she’ll be promoting on QVC this weekend. DeGeneres took some time out to chat with PEOPLE about her pets and the pet food they love to eat.
Q: When did the love affair with animals start for you?
A: Since I was a tiny child. I’ve always loved animals since I can remember and always thought someday I would work with them in some way. When you’re a kid you don’t always know the different occupations. I thought I was going to be a veterinarian. Then I realized what that entailed and that broke my heart. Then I worked with a rescue organization but I really thought my life would somehow revolve around animals … I hope one day I can start my own foundation and I support lots of rescue organizations now. I just love animals.
Q: How many pets do you have and what are their names?
A: I have two dogs and three cats. The dogs are Wolf and Mabel and the cats are Charlie, George, and Chairman.
Q: How old are all of them and what breed are they?
A: Mabel is, she just turned eight … She’s a standard poodle and then Wolf [he’s] probably three and a half now. He’s kind of a poodle-Maltese mix and he’s a rescue off of the street. And all three cats are rescue and they are probably anywhere from four to seven or eight. It’s hard to tell their ages. They were full-grown when we got them so we don’t know how old.
Q: Was the poodle a rescue as well?
A: She was kind of a show dog early in her career, and, like many models, got too old for it. She was in a kennel, she was not needed anymore so we got her from this guy. She was definitely not in a horrible situation; she was in a situation where she needed a home.
Q: Do all of your pets have very distinct personalities?
A: Of course! All animals have distinct personalities; they’re all very different. Mabel looks like she was a show dog and walks like she is a show dog. She’s actually more attached to Portia than she is to me. She’s very much attached to Portia and Wolf is just a sweet dog, needy for love from anybody. And all the cats are slightly different. They all have their different personalities. Charlie has a dog personality where she has to be wherever people are and follow you from room to room.
Q: And Wolf, you said you rescued him, when you first saw him, what was that connection like when you saw the dog and knew, that one’s for me?
A: Well, he was being mistreated. That’s how I knew. I wasn’t looking for a dog. I happened to spot a man that was not completely balanced. He was a guy that was mistreating the dog. He was swinging the dog around and doing things to it and I went over to him and offered to give him some money. It was a long, long story but the guy was very strange and had smuggled the dog in from Mexico and was not planning on doing things to it, so it took me hours to get that dog from that guy. Anyway, Wolf was in pretty bad shape. He was tiny … he was [malnourished], he couldn’t stand up. His back legs couldn’t support him because he had never been put down and maybe damaged on the way in, being smuggled in. It’s just the craziest story. But he’s just the craziest, sweetest dog now. Just a love!
Q: How do your pets fit in to your everyday routine?
A: The dogs usually go with Portia, she rides horses and she rides everyday and they get their exercise with the other dogs that go and we walk them and take them on hikes. The cats just get lots of attention and lots of love at home. There is no special routine but I can’t imagine life without them. I come home and no matter how tired I am it feels good to get that unconditional love.
Q: Where do they all sleep now?
A: Most of them sleep in the bedroom with us. The dogs, they have dog beds and there is one cat that sleeps with us and the other two have their own little areas in the house. They sleep wherever they want. The dogs are on the dog bed in the bedroom and the cat sleeps with us and two sleep wandering around.
Q: How did you get involved with Halo pet food?
A: Well I wanted to do something with pets. Like I said I love animals and I obviously care about what I feed my animals and when I found about this pet food that was all natural and holistic and high grade quality, it just made sense that I would, instead of starting a brand new company, there was already a company that existed that had everything I believed in and what I wanted to feed my pets. We all got together and decided that I would be a part owner of that company and it was a mutual agreement between all of us that has worked out really well, it’s doing well and people love the product. It was a small company and had been around for twenty years so they were very established and they had a fan base that was very loyal but it wasn’t large because it wasn’t in all the stores. Now it’s in every Petco, [and] the finer pet stores.
Q: What Halo products do your animals eat?
A: [My dogs] would do anything for Liv-a-Littles, they love those things … they eat the food everyday. We mix the wet and the dry food for the dogs and the cats eat the dry food everyday … some cats really love the cat food and some cats don’t respond to the texture of it so I’m looking forward to going in and playing around and trying to get a new cat food out as well. That’s what is fun for me. We’ve started changing some of the labeling, the food is still the same but the labels are different and I am going to start adding new products, go into cat beds and toys and all kinds of things.
Q: What would you tell someone who wants to get a new pet?
A: I urge people to rescue animals because they are all begging. And I think right now too with the economy the way it is, I think more and more people are going to have to let go [of pets]. Unfortunately, that is one of the decisions people make, they can’t afford to feed their family much less the animals and a lot of people just give up their animals and these are members of a family – all they’ve known is the security of a house and that’s all they’ve known for however long, for years, then all of a sudden they are in cages in the pound and they are just looking for another home … people really should [rescue animals from the pound]. If they’re thinking about that, that’s where they should go. Don’t support pet stores because that’s supporting puppy mills which are inhumane.