Open-door policy: High tech gizmo traps pup


Pity poor Lucy the beagle: Last June her owners– I mean, of course, her parents– spent $250 on an electric pet door, and things were looking great: All Lucy had to do was get near the door, and a signal would bounce from her new high-tech collar to make the door slide open.

But then her parents, Debra and Glenn Olsen of Jeffersonton, went on vacation, the door refused to open, and Lucy was locked in the laundry room. When a neighbor arrived to feed her several hours later, the Plexiglas panel that was supposed to slide up, as well as the adjacent woodwork, had been scratched where Lucy had tried to claw her way out.

The Olsens returned the door to High Tech Pet Products in Ventura, California, and the company returned it after repairing it. But Debra claims they hadn't: This time, she says, instead of refusing to open, the door began opening and closing for no reason– such as when Lucy was tucked up in bed. They lowered the sensitivity setting on Lucy's collar, but then she, "had to have her nose right up to the door in order for it to open."

When Debra called to complain, she claims she was told that "there had been many complaints" and that she should return the door. She would then be put on a list to get "a new, upgraded" door, which would take "about a month." Debra returned the door on September 28 and proceeded to wait.

She was still waiting when she emailed me on February 10. "I have reached the end of my resourcefulness," she wrote, "and need some help."

Since returning the door in late September, she claimed, "We have called, written emails, left voice messages to no avail. They always promise it will be mailed in a week. They say that [the doors] have been held in customs since December."

Meanwhile, she claimed, they had an 8x10" hole in the laundry room wall and had jury-rigged a flap with a cookie sheet, fabric, and towels. When they left the house, however, they had to prop it open so that Lucy could get in and out, which was not only inconvenient, but– with the onset of cold weather– hard on the heating bill.

Debra forwarded to me emails to and from the company, which included a November 17 message from president Nick Bonge.

"I apologize for the long wait for your Power Pet door replacement," Bonge began. "The new models are not in yet, and we expect it will be 2-3 more weeks before they arrive." Bonge claimed that he "absolutely" understood her frustration, but said there was "very little" he could do "until the new ones arrive."

He attached pictures and a description of the "new, greatly improved" model and said he was confident that when she received it, she would "agree it was worth the wait." The message ended on a high note: "As a token of our appreciation of your patience," Bonge wrote, "we will include a free gift with the shipment of your new unit." Alas, the free gift never came; neither did the greatly improved door.

Debra emailed Bonge on December 15. "I would like to know," she wrote, "without any smoke and mirrors, when exactly we will receive our dog door." If not until spring, she continued, she would prefer a refund so that she could get another door elsewhere. Debra claims Bonge never responded, and that a similar message to High Tech's returns department went unanswered as well.

I tried– hard– to talk to Bonge, but was finally told by a High Tech employee named Yvette that he had refused to speak to me. Yvette, however, had arranged for a new door to be sent overnight to the Olsens.

Unlike her boss, she didn't promise any free gifts– but the Olsens don't care; they're just happy to have a new door. Now let's just hope it works.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.