Wilmer Valderrama Says Service Dogs Are a 'Critical Element' in Helping Veterans with PTSD

·3 min read
Purina® Dog Chow® is teaming up with actor, producer, dog lover and longtime military supporter Wilmer Valderrama to recognize the finalists in Dog Chow’s first-ever Visible Impact Award.
Purina® Dog Chow® is teaming up with actor, producer, dog lover and longtime military supporter Wilmer Valderrama to recognize the finalists in Dog Chow’s first-ever Visible Impact Award.

Purina Dog Chow

Wilmer Valderrama is using his platform for good.

The NCIS star recently discussed his latest project with PEOPLE: a collaboration with Purina Dog Chow to honor finalists of the brand's first-ever Visible Impact Award, which highlights the moving ways service dogs help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As a dog lover, Valderrama, 42, says getting involved in the project "felt like a no-brainer."

"I think about how roughly 3.5 million military veterans with PTSD, and while service dogs have demonstrated the ability to reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms, only 1% of those in need who seek a service dog receive one each year," the actor explains.

The Dog Chow Visible Impact Award celebrates the remarkable impact PTSD service dogs have on veterans’ daily lives and is part of Dog Chow’s 5th annual Service Dog Salute program.
The Dog Chow Visible Impact Award celebrates the remarkable impact PTSD service dogs have on veterans’ daily lives and is part of Dog Chow’s 5th annual Service Dog Salute program.

Purina Dog Chow

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"That's a pretty significant number because it's been proven that a lot of the service dogs have been a critical element to the recovery and the rehabilitation of our veterans," he adds.

By raising awareness about the fantastic work PTSD service dogs can do, the Visible Impact Award hopes to help more veterans connect with service animals. Voting for the 2022 Visible Impact Award runs through Oct. 17. For every vote, Purina Dog Chow will donate $5 to the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans — up to $75,000 — to aid in the training of more PTSD service dogs.

Reflecting on his own experience meeting PTSD service dogs, Valderrama tells PEOPLE that the dogs are trained "to go beyond being a loyal companion."

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"I was blown away by their ability and their capabilities," Valderrama says of the trained service dogs he has encountered. "To give you an example, a veteran or an individual feeling some type of anxiety produces a chemical that a service dog can smell. And that turns into a command for the dog to immediately turn into care mode."

Purina® Dog Chow® is teaming up with actor, producer, dog lover and longtime military supporter Wilmer Valderrama to recognize the finalists in Dog Chow’s first-ever Visible Impact Award.
Purina® Dog Chow® is teaming up with actor, producer, dog lover and longtime military supporter Wilmer Valderrama to recognize the finalists in Dog Chow’s first-ever Visible Impact Award.

Purina Dog Chow

"The dog jumps on top of you, pulls you down, centers you, licks your face, and tells you, 'Hey, we're here. It's just you and I. Focus on the moment,'" he continues, adding, "a PTSD service dog is intuitive enough to smell and understand what a veteran is going through. That's unbelievable to me."

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The That '70s Show star also has great respect and a longtime appreciation for veterans and the military, revealing that his first dream was to "be a pilot for the Air Force, or to serve for the military, or to join the Marines."

"That was a moment of aspiration for me," Valderrama tells PEOPLE.

Purina® Dog Chow® is teaming up with actor, producer, dog lover and longtime military supporter Wilmer Valderrama to recognize the finalists in Dog Chow’s first-ever Visible Impact Award.
Purina® Dog Chow® is teaming up with actor, producer, dog lover and longtime military supporter Wilmer Valderrama to recognize the finalists in Dog Chow’s first-ever Visible Impact Award.

Purina Dog Chow

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Valderrama's life took him on a different path, which he notes has gifted him with many opportunities and blessings. The actor says doing charitable work with partners like Purina Dog Chow is one of the ways he pays it forward.

"I felt it was important. You get the blessings, you got to give them out," he says

To vote for a Visible Impact Award finalist and learn more about the campaign, visit Purina Dog Chow's website.