The Dancing with the Stars judge achieves a longtime dream of helping rescue animals

By Helin Jung
Updated February 28, 2012 10:00 PM

When Carrie Ann Inaba’s 19-year-old cat Shadow died last October, she realized it was time – time to help other cats in need.

“His passing was a catalyst,” she tells PEOPLE. “He was my best friend and had been through so much with me. After losing him, it made me realize that it’s time to get involved.”

It isn’t that Inaba, a lifelong animal lover, hadn’t been doing her part. Since becoming a judge on Dancing with the Stars, she’d become a celebrity ambassador to Best Friends Animal Society and had participated in a PETA campaign. Still, she felt like she needed to be doing more.

In the public sphere, Inaba created a new web show called Crib Cat, which will debut in March on Petsami’s YouTube channel. The show’s short webisodes will each feature an adoptable shelter cat – hand-picked by Inaba – that needs a home. She will also be hosting the Humane Society’s 26th Genesis Awards, airing on Animal Planet in May.

Working with networks of animal rescuers has “made the biggest difference in my life,” Inaba says. “I go to bed crying sometimes, because you can’t save them all, but it’s also so uplifting because you can go to bed knowing you did something. We try, and I feel good about that.”

On a personal level, Inaba and fiancé Jesse Sloan have been fostering animals, though that hasn’t gone exactly as planned. What started out as a fostering session turned into a full-on adoption, and the couple have since welcomed 8-year-old boxer Cookie into their home, which also includes six cats: Squeaker, Taz, Zeus, Mia, Bubble and Miley.

Inaba and Sloan had planned for Shadow to be part of their upcoming wedding, but will instead try to work all their pets into the ceremony if they can. Says Inaba, “They’re so much a part of our family that they have to be involved.”

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