SUGAR, SPICE, AND EVERYTHING NICE, How this dog-loving entrepreneur went from RUFF beginnings to sweet success
By Katy Cable
Heavenly aromas are wafting through the air in this suburban neighborhood just north of San Diego. The epicenter is a bustling kitchen with an oven full of mouth-watering hot cocoa, churro, and raspberry flavors of sugar cookies. While those are baking, finishing touches are being intricately applied to the faces of a batch of rainbow-sprinkled Pug unicorn cookies and a 3-foot-tall Alice in Wonderland cake. Each masterpiece is so adorable, it’s almost a crime that they will soon be devoured.
Every square inch of the kitchen countertops is cluttered with mixing bowls, cake-decorating tools, and a rainbow of sprinkles, frostings, and fondant. 3 adorable, exuberant pug puppies are constantly underfoot, fighting for crumbs falling from the workspace.
Welcome to a day in the life of the amazing, Crystal Aquino, owner and sole proprietor of Divine K-9 treats. But don’t let the name fool you. While Divine K-9 treats do make tantalizing dog delicacies, Aquino’s specialty is baking sweet creations for humans. -Especially those who adore their pets.
But Crystal’s life wasn’t always sugar and spice and everything nice. I would’ve guessed a woman with this kind of passion, talent, and creativity must have come from a long line of family mentors. I pictured her as a little girl standing on a footstool to reach the kitchen counter. She and her mother wear matching aprons as she is taught how to bake treasured recipes that have been in the family for generations.
The reality couldn’t have been farther from the truth. When it comes to her childhood, she got more than a baker’s dozen of neglect, abuse, and trauma.
It began with a difficult birth by forceps which left Crystal with severe, painful hip problems. At just six years old she spent over 18 months in the hospital and endured more than 100 surgeries to try and correct her hips. Ironically, the hospital was actually a preferred safe haven compared to her hellish home life. It was an upbringing so horrific she would rather try and forget.
The second she was old enough, Crystal escaped and joined the military. It was here she found her passion for baking.
“When I was in the Air Force we would have monthly potlucks and no one ever signed up for desserts. Being one of 3 females in the squadron, I didn't want to do desserts because as a woman in the military, you have to often hide your ’girly’ side to be treated equally. But my cakes were a huge hit! The problem was, although my cakes tasted great, I would make them in bundt pans so they weren’t very pretty.”
An injury brought her military career to a screeching halt and Crystal received an honorary medical discharge. With time on her hands, she decided to ditch the Bundt cake pans once and for all. She eagerly enrolled in a cake decorating class at her local community college. It was in this class her fate was sealed.
“By the second or third class, my instructor told me I had a natural talent and picked up things fast. It was my first introduction to decorating with fondant and I fell in love. By the time I finished the 6-week session, the instructor was referring clients to me.”
Crystal thought her new career would be over as quickly as it started when she recalls her very first professional job.
“The first cake I ever made was Smokey the Bear's head for a retiring firefighter. I was so nervous because I felt I was representing my instructor, who referred me. I was happy with the cake I made but delivering it was another story. The trip was a 45-minute harrowing car ride on bumpy, winding, steep roads. I was sick to my stomach with nerves the entire drive. I thought for sure the cake would be a total disaster. Thankfully, it arrived unscathed. Best of all, the cake got great feedback.”
Word of mouth spread like wildfire and in 2009, Crystal started her first bakery business. Baking shows were becoming wildly popular on TV and her fondant cake masterpieces were in high demand.
“In the blink of an eye, I was booked with cake orders 3 months in advance. Plus, I was still working a 9-5 job! it was a crazy time and I couldn’t have done it without my patient and supporting husband urging me on.”
In 2013 things took a terrible turn when Crystal’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. She cut back on her booming cake business in order to be his full time nurse while he went through radiation and chemotherapy. After completing treatment his cancer was in remission and Crystal resumed taking cake orders. But the celebration was short-lived.
One year later doctors discovered his cancer had returned. Once again Crystal didn’t hesitate to close up her baking business to focus on him. Daily life no longer involved baking and decorating delicious creations, but the unglamorous tasks of flushing ports, changing colostomy bags and taking her husband to multiple medical appointments. While her husband was in the hospital for a minor procedure, tragedy struck.
“We were talking when all of the sudden he motioned for me to get a nurse because he couldn't breathe. They put a breathing tube down his throat and he never woke up. I had to make the painful decision to let him go. Just when I didn’t think things could get any worse, a few months later I lost our beloved family dog Luca to lymphoma. With back-to-back tragedies, I just shut down. It was a sad and dark few years after that. My biggest cheerleader was gone so trying to make a cake without hearing his voice was way too painful.”
Fast forward a few years, Crystal shared a joke on Twitter which turned her life, right side up! After a few months of correspondence with her new online friend, Ronnie Revoredo, she found out this he was a Pug owner and lived nearby.
Ronnie invited Crystal to a birthday party he was throwing for his little Instagram-famous Pug named Dotty. Not only did she happily accept the invitation she also volunteered to make both puppy and human cupcakes for the occasion.
As you can imagine, Crystal and her magnificent desserts were a huge hit. Especially with Ronnie who was in shock over her amazing baking skills.
Dotty’s party brought Crystal so much attention, and requests, she decided to tiptoe back into the baking business. In 2019 Divine K9 Treats was launched.
Canine treats were nothing new to Crystal.
“My dog Luca had so many allergies that I had to make him homemade dog treats. I had lots of recipes he loved and none of them made him itchy or gave him a bad reaction.”
After the heartbreaking loss of Luca, Crystal added Padma and Constantine, two darling Bull Mastiffs double her size, to her pack.
“When I got Panda and Constantine, I continued to make their dog treats.I then branched out to making Pug-faced sugar cookies for an event and it just took off from there. I was getting loads of sugar cookie orders so I started to introduce more breeds and allowed people to send me a picture of their pet and I would recreate their dog's face on the cookie.”
Not only did her business take off, but so did her relationship with Ronnie. The ultimate test was seeing how their dogs got along. Thankfully, Padma, Constantine, and Dotty bonded and quickly became one big, happy family. For a glorious year, there was never a dull moment and life was sweet indeed.
And then the cookie crumbled! First, the pandemic hit and everything stopped on a dime. Then, Crystal began suffering from debilitating headaches that left her bedridden. In addition, she began having chest pain, weakness, and lightheadedness. On one occasion it was so severe, she was raced to the ER certain she was suffering from a heart attack. Her diagnosis was pericarditis, a condition that causes one to feel like they’re having a heart attack. They also discovered a massive brain tumor. Crystal did her best to manage her debilitating health condition during the trials of a pandemic.
Around this time, Dotty reached the ripe old age of 17 and they knew her time was very limited. As luck would have it, the Wyoming Pug Rescue had sibling puppies that needed loving homes. In April 2020, Ivy and Quinn were adopted and brought loads of puppy love and energy to the family. They held a fabulous rainbows and unicorns PAWTY for Dotty’s 17th birthday and welcomed the new puppies.
Dotty passed away the following spring, leaving an entire pug community heartbroken. While still reeling from the devastating loss, they learned beloved Padma was battling cancer and didn’t have long to live. They are currently doing everything they can to keep Padma comfortable and cherish every precious minute.
For Crystal and Ronnie that means hosting movie nights and parties for their large circle of pug-owning friends. And, they are fixtures at many dog-inclusive celebrations which nearly always include delicious desserts baked by Divine K-9 Treats!
On a happier note, at a recent pug gathering, they left with an extra special party favor. -A tiny, brindle, Pug puppy they named Gracie, who they adopted from The Pug Queen.
I asked Crystal a few questions about Divine K-9 Treats:
While life isn’t always a piece of cake, Crystal feels so grateful. For this talented woman, there is nothing more satisfying than providing joy to people’s lives with her delicious treats. She also loves the opportunity to be part of their celebrations and their beloved pets.
The sun is setting and Crystal’s day is winding down. After photographing the last few orders for social media, they simply need to be packaged and shipped. The Pug puppies are buzzing around the kitchen anxiously awaiting dinner. Padma & Constantine are fast asleep cuddling on a dog bed in the adjoining room. Patience is a virtue for these lucky dogs and, in addition to dinner, they’re served the next batch of warm dog treats pulled from the oven. -It’s love at first bite! From dogs to humans, Crystal Aquino the extraordinaire behind Divine K-9 Treats, knows all the right ingredients to bake people, and their pups happy!
To see Crystal’s creations and/or order, visit: