The Big Stink

Susan and Bill Heywood put Mister Laguna, their red poodle, to sleep on Groundhog Day, 1996. Most people honor a pet's death with a few tears. The Heywoods thought an annual black-tie affair at the Arizona Biltmore would be more fitting.

Several years later, the Scratch & Sniff Awards dinner is one of the most creative events on the Valley social circuit, a definite E-ticket that draws the biggest names and fattest wallets -- local politicians, athletes, socialites and other B-list celebs eager to see their names in lights during the Academy Awards spoof that tops off every Scratch & Sniff. The cast is always impressive. Governor Jane Hull once proclaimed a statewide "Scratch & Sniff Day." Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a perennial favorite in the Nine Lives category. Over the years, the list of honorary chairs and sponsors and award presenters has included Jerry Colangelo, John Teets, Geordie Hormel and Secretary of State Betsey Bayless.

Bill Heywood -- a veteran local radio talk-show host -- always emcees. Susan Heywood is hostess, serving as chairman of the board of Scratch & Sniff as well as the group's executive director.

Like a day at Disneyland, tickets to the Scratch & Sniff Awards will cost you plenty. In the past, a table has gone for as much as $50,000, with some partygoers forking over tens of thousands of dollars at the evening's auction.

The money goes for a good cause, to save cats and dogs in Maricopa County. Over the past few years, Scratch & Sniff has funded many innovative animal-related projects, including a mobile pet adoption unit, and donated to worthy organizations such as the Arizona Animal Welfare League, Animal Benefits Club and Maricopa County's animal control department.

But earlier this year, some Scratch & Sniff board members started asking questions about where the rest of the money -- money not given away in grants -- was going. Unsatisfied with the answers, three have fled the organization in the past few months, with rumors of more resignations to come.

News of trouble at Scratch & Sniff -- and Susan Heywood's angst over it -- has spread among the ladies-who-lunch set more quickly than you can clear a sales rack at Neiman Marcus.

The former board members contend that Susan is mischaracterizing the amount of money going to animal causes. She says it's 70 percent -- she includes at least part of her salary and money spent on promotional materials -- while her detractors say only about 30 percent actually goes to the animals.

And her critics don't like the way the rest of the cash is being spent.

They charge that Susan Heywood has spent Scratch & Sniff's money on tickets to high-end dinner parties that have nothing to do with saving animals; that she lied about the intended use of a donation from the grande dame of Phoenix philanthropists, Kax Herberger; that her hefty salary ($75,000 plus benefits) was never approved by the board; and that she's done little to earn her keep.

There are also concerns about the way Scratch & Sniff is organized. Three of the five members of the board's executive committee are Heywoods (Susan, Bill and Nicole Heywood Cooper, their daughter). The former board members say this is wrong because most decisions are made at the executive level, giving the Heywoods too much control.

One of the most troubling concerns is that Susan put $50,000 of Scratch & Sniff's money in a money market account managed by Cooper, her daughter and the board's secretary.

Even worse, Cooper opened the account, in January 2002, in her mother's name, rather than in the name of Scratch & Sniff. The mistake was not discovered until June, Susan Heywood says, and ultimately not corrected until August.

"That's an ugly one, huh?" Heywood says, when asked why $50,000 of the nonprofit's money was held in her name for eight months.

"We all deeply apologize for that. It is our mistake."

The Heywoods are appalled at the suggestion that they stand to benefit financially from Scratch & Sniff. Although they share the society pages with their wealthy contributors, the Heywoods are the first to describe themselves as "working stiffs." Bill says he gets up at 2:45 a.m. each weekday to go on the radio. Susan insists she closed her lucrative ad agency so she could save cats and dogs for a fraction of her previous salary.

When faced with specific accusations, Susan and Bill Heywood come across as Dumb and Dumber. They deny the charges, but not convincingly.

"I'm not an accountant," Susan says repeatedly, when asked financial questions about an organization that, she continually points out, is her brain child and she purposely closely controls.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.