Helin Jung
May 08, 2012 09:00 PM

Whether Carrie Ann Inaba is at work or at home, she always has her heart open to animals.

When the Dancing with the Stars judge saw that a young, injured opossum found wandering on the lot had been threatened by workers, she swooped in and rescued the animal. She put it in a box with food and water, then allowed it to rest in her darkened trailer.

“I want to give him the best chance at living a long, healthy life,” Inaba tells PEOPLE. “A television studio parking lot is not a good place for a little opossum.”

While the show taped, the opossum, which Inaba named Awesome, slept. Afterward, Inaba took Awesome home, doing research to find out what opossums like to eat (blueberries and grapes) and working with wildlife rehabilitationists to find out what Awesome’s best chances of survival were.

“A lot of places will come and pick them up, only to humanely euthanize them,” she says. “That’s not acceptable.”

On Tuesday, Inaba found the kind of place she had been searching for: Shadow Oaks Wildlife Care, a volunteer rescue organization in California. They agreed to rehabilitate Awesome, after which the opossum will be released into the wild.

“I’m so happy for him,” Inaba says. “Opossums are so misunderstood, and we should educate ourselves about them.”

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