Carrie Ann Inaba didn’t just invite her friends along to celebrate her 50th birthday — she brought along a bunch of barnyard animals, too!
In honor of her milestone birthday, the Dancing with the Stars judge gathered up some of her closest pals and took a trip to The Gentle Barn, which was founded in 1999 as a safe haven for severely abused animals.
There, Inaba danced the day away with an emu named Earl, hugged a 10-year-old cow that weighs 3,000 lbs., took selfies with a horse, and let a goat named Hannah Banana give her a leg scratch.
“Instead of having a big party for my 50th I wanted to gather my closest friends and spend an Afternoon at The Gentle Barn,” Inaba told PEOPLE exclusively.
Animals have long been important to Inaba, who founded The Animal Project Foundation — an organization that raises money for animal rescue and helps find loving homes for abandoned pets — in the fall of 2012.
Inaba added that she “recently became a vegetarian” and “seeing these animals up close reaffirmed that choice for me.”
“The love in an animal’s heart is no different than the love in our own and even though we may look a little different the connection is the love we all feel And share. Love is what connects us all. Love is universal,” she continued.
RELATED VIDEO: How Did Carrie Ann Inaba End Up with 3 Dogs and 4 Cats?
Inaba also revealed that as a Capricorn, she’s “always looked forward to getting older.”
“I feel invigorated and free,” she added, before admitting that turning 50 was a bit of a “wakeup call.”
“Turning fifty is a wakeup call in many ways,” she said. “It’s about waking up and living the truth of your heart and doing the things you really want to do.”
And the DWTS judge mentioned that she’s started a few new projects for herself in 2018.
“I want to write and inspire people. I want to share what I’ve learned in my fifty years,” she said, adding that she’s built an in-home studio where she can film “interviews and blogs,” which will help her be post more “fun and uplifting content” on social media.
“And of course I will be continuing the important work with my foundation, The Animal Project Foundation,” she added. “Being a positive contribution to people’s happiness is very important to me.”