Carrie Ann Inaba, 45, is a dancer and choreographer best known as one of three judges on ABC’s award-winning Dancing With the Stars. She keeps her legs busy on the dance floor, but her mind and heart have been consumed recently with her Carrie Ann Inaba Animal Project (CAIAP), which works together with animal rescue groups to help abused and neglected animals, promote adoption from shelters, and eliminate euthanasia. A native of Hawaii, Inaba now lives in Los Angeles with her Chihuahua rescue, Peanut (whose morning kisses whisk away any occasional moments of grumpiness), and four rescue cats. She is so passionate about the bond between two-legged and four-legged creatures that she does things like adopt animals with serious medical needs, and stay up all night to design CAIAP’s web site. The organization will host a gala in October, and Inaba’s goal is to raise $1 million for CAIAP. “I’ve had this idea since I was really young to bring together dancers to raise money for animals," she says. “Dancers are a lot like animals -- we’re the ones without a voice."
Your CAIAP web site is full of adorable dog photos. It seems glamour shots help shelter dogs get adopted.
Yes, photos are a huge, important part. I’ve found that if you have a little dog and put him in a sweater, it will increase his chance of getting adopted. Even more so if you put him in front of pillows and blankets. It's about helping people imagine the dog in their home.
Your organization, Carrie Ann Inaba Animal Project, works together with animal rescue groups to help abused and neglected animals.What has this process taught you about human behavior?
More than anything, I’ve found that I’m truly an animal lover, and that’s the community I relate to. These are people who will spend their last $25 on gas to transport an animal. Animals provide truly unconditional love. I want to share that with more people -- people who lack contact with other humans, like seniors who are alone. I think we could even work with the homeless population to help take care of our animals.
Do you think rescue pets need more TLC than other animals?
I know one thing: They know you saved them. If their life is in danger, they know it, and they show that appreciation in beautiful ways. You don’t know their past, so you have to be a lot more tuned in to your animal. And that’s the gift you get -- putting your energy toward another creature. That’s what love is.
You have a Chihuahua and four cats. Some of your pets have medical issues.
My boxer, Cookie, recently passed away. She had a heart condition and had been in a cage for so long when I adopted her. My cat Taz has had three surgeries and has only one kidney. He has a feeding tube, and he is one of the happiest, healthiest cats I have ever seen. Loving all my special-needs animals is so rewarding.
What’s the routine when you get home?
I walk through the door, get attacked by [the Chihuahua] Peanut and play with her on her big bed. I give Taz 50 mL of water in his neck through a syringe. Squeaker gets dinner. Taz gets dinner. Peanut is the pickiest -- I usually give her three choices for dinner, because I never know what she’ll want to eat. I wash more animal dishes than human dishes.
You’ve lived all over the world. How is the attitude about pets different in places like Hawaii or Japan?
In Hawaii everyone loves their animals, but dogs are treated more like outside dogs. In L.A., people have them indoors and carry them around all the time. Once in a while I take Peanut out to socialize her, but it makes her nervous, and I try not to stress out my animals. In Japan, there’s a high aesthetic, and it’s the same with pets: They treat them a little bit like toys, dressing them up and grooming them beautifully.
You’ve been through a few really difficult things in the last year -- ending an engagement, the death of one of your dogs, and the death of your father. Have your pets picked up on your sadness?
Yes. My fiancé and I broke up, then after I moved, Cookie passed away and then my dad. Peanut sensed it. I feel like dogs mirror your emotions. Cats are pretty mellow and steadfast, but that helps me. I’m very emotional. They help me come back to the status quo.
That’s kind of the deal, right? You save them, then they save you.
Absolutely. It goes both ways. When I was in my early 20s, my cat and my grandmother died. I felt so much more sad about my cat, and I felt really guilty about it. Human relationships are much more complicated, and the relationship with an animal is just love. So when you lose an animal, the grief is tremendous. Cookie passed away in my arms. It was heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. Two weeks later, my father died, and he died in his sleep. I think Cookie’s death prepared me for that, because I saw how peaceful it was. There’s so much magic in the world. And I think I’m more open to it now because of my animals.
What are you most excited about with the new season of Dancing With the Stars?
We’ve gotten back to the core of the show: people who don’t know how to dance, learning how to dance. There are a lot of not-so-great dancers, and they’re attacking it with their heart and soul. In the end, this is a show about transformation and taking on fears in a very public way.
What's your diet these days?
I was pescetarian [someone who eats fish, but not meat] for a year and a half. As part of my love of animals, I’ve never felt right about eating animals. But I had a severe iron deficiency and had to start eating meat again. I’m being very careful about how the meat is prepared. I’d like to get off meat completely again, but I have to do it with a better plan to get the vitamins and minerals my body needs.
And how about your workout routine?
I do a workout called "Drenched," by Michael Blanks -- the brother of Billy Blanks. It’s like going to a nightclub at 7 in the morning, with kickboxing and dancing. I also do yoga, and I do weight training two to three times a week. You don’t have to kill yourself; just focus on the muscles that need to be toned.
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