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Petnet charges new $30 annual fee for a service that still doesn’t work

Example of how your furry friend may react to your automated pet feeder being offline. Not pictured: Insistent, deeply annoyed meowing.
Enlarge / Example of how your furry friend may react to your automated pet feeder being offline. Not pictured: Insistent, deeply annoyed meowing.

It has not been a good year for customers of Petnet’s cloud-connected, automated pet-feeder system. After a rough spring, with multiple prolonged service outages, the company tried a last-ditch plea to its customers: Pay a subscription fee of $4 a month, or $30 a year, and we’ll be able to keep the lights on. Some users paid up—but it was apparently in vain, as their smartfeeders are still basically paperweights without connected service.

Petnet’s public troubles began in February, when a service outage took feeders offline. The connection issues lasted for more than a week, during which time Petnet was completely and utterly unresponsive to customer complaints made by email, phone, or Twitter. Nor were customers the only ones who couldn’t reach the company: messages Ars and other outlets sent to Petnet’s press contact bounced back with an error saying the email address did not exist.

Service was finally restored—but only fleetingly, it turned out. Customers again began to complain of system outages beginning in late March. That time, Petnet blamed the COVID-19 crisis for its lack of response, saying in a March 26 email, “One of our third party vendors has notified us that due to COVID-19 their operations are experiencing an adverse effect. We will monitor this situation closely and provide you with any updates as they arise.”

By late April, it seemed the company was simply done for. As of April 27, the last time we wrote about Petnet, the service outage had lasted for weeks and the company was once again completely unresponsive. The last time the public had heard from Petnet was on April 14, when the company posted a tweet describing a continued systems outage. Then, on April 24, Petnet sent an email to all customers saying, “The Petnet community needs your help.” The company was on the brink of collapse, the email explained: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, all remaining funding dried up. The company said it “reorganized its resources” in response—a reorganization that included furloughing 100 percent of the staff and ceasing all future product development.

One last chance

That email also included a link to a survey, asking customers how they would feel about continuing to receive service in exchange for a subscription fee. “This model would fund the monthly operating cost to run the Petnet infrastructure and customer support,” the message explained. “This model would be billed at a monthly rate of $4 /month or $30 annually, which would be a 37.5% discount.”

Petnet seemed to rally after that. On May 29, it sent an email to customers that service was restored:

Dear Petnet Family

We are delighted to announce that our systems are back online for your first generation SmartFeeder. Hopefully, you have already noticed that functionality has returned. As we detailed to you previously, customers overwhelmingly favored a subscription model to keep your SmartFeeder online. So, we are moving forward with that model, and details about what to expect can be found below.

Petnet has always put the needs of our customers’ pets first, and we appreciate your support in helping us do that with this new model. Based on your response to our subscription survey, you have selected the option to pay a yearly subscription price of $30.

Your $30 per year subscription provides us with the ability to maintain our systems infrastructure and continue offering the customer support you deserve… Petnet services will be exclusively available to subscription users after June 30.

Petnet’s Twitter account also apparently rose from the dead on June 10 to announce that the service disruption was resolved.

Some users took Petnet up on the new offer, hoping to continue using their feeders as normal. But money apparently did not solve Petnet’s woes, and service has not improved since the subscription model was activated.

“Looks like I have been scammed”

“I just paid $30 through PayPal for an annual subscription but am now questioning whether this is actually legitimate,” one user wrote to Ars in late June, adding that she was still unable to access the app on her phone. She contacted Petnet again several times trying to have her app password reset, but as of July 1, she concluded, “Looks like I have been scammed… the support email address no longer exists.”

Another Ars reader reached out last week saying that he had paid $30 for a year of service, but as of July 2, although his feeder still functioned and fed his cat every day, “I cannot connect to the device or control it using the app,” which could not connect even though Petnet said it would be available after June 30. “Several times over the last two days I have tried to contact them via phone, email, and Facebook with no luck,” he added.

Several users on Twitter also approached the @petnetiosupport account with similar complaints. “I still can’t even set up an account,” one wrote. Another user experienced the same problem, while a third said they could not log in to their existing account. And the problems seem to go beyond just the app, as one user said their second generation SmartFeeder had once again stopped working completely.

Ars tried contacting Petnet’s CEO (and, as far as we know, only remaining employee), Carlos Herrera, by phone and—just like Petnet customers—did not receive a response. If you paid for the service you now aren’t getting, your best bet is probably to contact PayPal or your credit card provider and try to get your money back that way.