The Zorro actor discusses the pivotal moment he realized that he needed to be the "architect" of his career and how that led him to partner with Purina Dog Chow's Service Dog Salute campaign.
Wilmer Valderrama, 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards - Press Room
Credit: Getty Images / Rich Fury

Wilmer Valderrama understands that to get far in life and achieve your goals, one must be intentional about the decisions one makes.

"When I started this journey, when I started my career—this was back in 1997, '98—I had done a couple of theater plays and a couple of commercials. And after I started on That '70s Show that this journey [really] began, I really didn't understand the responsibility I had," the actor and producer explained to People Chica.

Valderrama, like many emerging actors, was "just happy to be working" at a time when "there was not a lot of Latinos on primetime."

"I was one of the only ones, you know," he details. "I was in a show that had such a global platform. So, you know, I was just happy to be funny and happy to entertain people and make people laugh. And that was purely my first purpose. I just want to make people laugh. That was literally how it all started."

Wilmer Valderrama, National Hispanic Media Coalition Annual Impact Awards Gala - Inside
Credit: Getty Images / Brian Feinzimer

But, like many prominent Latin talents of our time, the higher their star rose the more they'd pay attention to the projects they associated themselves with.

"Slowly I started really paying attention to the roles I was portraying, to the things that I was saying yes [to] and to what artistic demonstration of our culture was I actually amplifying by showing up to whatever movie and character [I chose]," he explained.

"Then at a very early age, I really understood I had to really 'architect' the things that I was doing," Valderrama adds.

It was at the ripe age of 20, when most folks are still finding themselves, that Valderrama decided to take his first step into the man he'd later become—all thanks to his nephew.

At 20, the NCIS actor partnered with industry giant Disney to produce and develop their first bilingual character Handy Manny in hopes of providing preschool-aged children with quality TV programming.

Wilmer Valderrama, "Handy Manny Motorcycle Adventure" Exclusive Premiere
Credit: Getty Images / Mark Sullivan

Fast forward to today, the 42-year-old industry veteran has partnered with Purina Dog Chow for their Service Dog Salute campaign that seeks to raise awareness around the lifesaving work and support that service dogs provide United States veterans experiencing posttraumatic stress.

"I can tell you that when I look back, I realize that everything was intentionally built for [a sort of] ecosystem—all the different companies that I'm a part of, everything that I've launched," he began.

"I realized that everything that I did from the beginning to all the way up to this point, in all the partnerships [I've entered], whether it's [the Service Dog Salute] campaign or any other campaign that touches anyone that somehow my art has also touched some point, I realized it was part of my responsibility [to be intentional]," he notes.

The Service Dog Salute campaign, having entered its fifth year, recently held an open contest that was looking to award a special pup for the support they provided their U.S. veteran.

Three guide dogs at dog training
Credit: Getty Images / Westend61

This year Ivy, an Operation Freedom Paws trained Great Pyrenees from Prescott, Arizona, was recognized as the grand prize winner of the Dog Chow Visible Impact Award after having helped U.S. Army Veteran Todd.

Todd, who was experiencing PTS, had a life-changing conversation with a fellow veteran who had encouraged him to look into applying for a service dog. The rest was history.

"When you think about the presence of the contribution of your puppy [or] your dog at home, it's monumental, right? It really is an emotional connection," Valderrama posits.

He continues, "And when you think about these dogs who are also trained now to identify posttraumatic stress [and] to really support veterans in their transition and in their moment [of] restructuring, you know, rebuilding themselves [and getting] acclimated back into our society, these dogs have been proven to be literally lifesaving."

Black labrador retriever puppy that will be trained as a dog guide.
Credit: Getty Images / Jim Craigmyle

Thanks to Ivy, Todd no longer has to worry about entering potentially negative spaces as Ivy was specially trained to pick up on things or energies that could affect him.

"They are a support and [provide] pure understanding that is driven by love and it's just unbelievable what these dogs are capable of doing based on the training they were given," Valderrama adds.

After winning the Dog Chow Visible Impact Award, Todd will receive a $10,000 prize from Dog Chow and Operation Freedom Paws will receive a donation of $25,000 so that they can continue training dogs to help out U.S. veterans.

For more about Dog Chow's mission and how you can help out, visit