Ellen DeGeneres believes animals are "the closest things to God".

The talk show host - who is married to Portia de Rossi - was planning to become a veterinarian before embarking on her TV career, and says animals provided her with some important lessons when growing up.

She said: "The compassion I have for animals comes from my earliest memories. The first bird I saved was a mockingbird when I was around seven years. It had fallen out of its nest and I took it home and it grew up to be a full, grown-up mockingbird. I took it back to that same tree and released it."

In 1997, DeGeneres's hit sit-com 'Ellen' was cancelled and she admits she was left feeling "low" - until she had another encounter with a mockingbird and it helped give her the strength to carry on.

She recalled to People magazine: "When I was at a low after the show was cancelled, there was a hummingbird in a fountain that was almost dead. I just put my hand in to take it out, and saw it was alive. So I held it to the sun, and it started drying its wings. Then it flew straight up. It was like a metaphor. It had been one of those days for me. Just when you think you should give up, there's a hand that comes and gets you and goes, 'Nope, you're going to be OK."