You can’t put a dollar value on a pet owner’s love for their cat or dog.

But that’s exactly what the Streetsville, Ontario, pet food company Menu Foods faces in reimbursing local owners of animals who ate contaminated pet food linked to the deaths and illnesses of animals across the country.

Dolores and Robert Weise’s 8-year-old cat Pee Shoo was in Dunnellon Animal Hospital with renal failure for a week – at a cost of more than $1,000 in critical care – after eating Special Kitty wet food from a pouch bought at a local Wal-Mart.

Social Security is the only steady income the retired couple has, but fortunately for Pee Shoo, they had enough money saved up to cover the costs. The cat is home again with a daily IV drip being applied to make sure the feline stays hydrated.

But not every person with a sick animal has the resources to get them better.

“I know there are people who have to take their animals home to die,” said Robert Weise.

The couple shares a tale common with people whose animals have been diagnosed with kidney failure after eating recalled pet food.

Across north central Florida, thousands of dollars have been spent on the testing, critical care and aftercare of pets that have eaten the tainted pet food. Higher-costing prescription food or other medicines are ongoing costs owners like the Weise family face, with little or no guarantees about how long such measures must be taken.

Upon learning about the possible connection between Pee Shoo’s illness and the company’s food, the couple tried 20 to 30 times to reach Menu Foods.

They often got a busy signal. When they got through, their name and number was taken, and they were told someone would call back.

“Nobody would call back,” Robert Weise said. None of their calls were returned to date.

Across the country, several lawsuits have been filed against Menu Foods. The company has been criticized for not acting quickly enough after its own tests showed animal deaths and for not responding fast enough to a rising tide of customer complaints.

The Weises have thought about hiring a lawyer, but they’ve heard about Menu Foods’ recent promise to make good on all the veterinary bills associated with the recall. They’re waiting to see if that actually happens.

“There’s a little nagging doubt in my mind that Menu Foods can handle all the claims,” Robert Weise said.

Knowing about several cases at the Dunnellon Animal Hospital and hearing about more in Ocala, Robert Weise wonders just how widespread the cases must be.

Cases of kidney damage in otherwise healthy cats and dogs, which veterinarians suspect are the result of the contaminated pet food, have been seen in Ocala at Paddock Park Animal Care Center, All Pets Clinic and Airport Road Animal Clinic. At Dunnellon Animal Hospital, two cats had to be euthanized after kidney failure veterinarians believe was the result of eating bad pet food.

Veterinarians say they’re getting a steady stream of pet owners bringing in animals for testing if they’ve eaten recalled pet food. But trying to figure out exactly how many animals may have been sickened by the bad pet food across the country is like throwing a dart at a constantly moving dartboard.

“If this is typical, there will be thousands of claims made,” Robert Weise said.

A press release on Menu Foods’ Web site reports the company has heard from about 200,000 consumers regarding the recall. Not all of those are claims.

Menu Foods is advising people who believe their pet has been made ill by contaminated pet food to save receipts from pet food purchases and copies of their veterinarian bills. The company is telling consumers to keep any pet food pouches or cans with the recall-specific dates and UPC codes on them, but in a place where they can’t be mistakenly fed to pets.

Dolores and Robert have receipts from Wal-Mart showing purchases of Special Kitty cat food, and a pile of vet bills.

“I’d like to think if Menu Foods stiffs us that Wal-Mart would honor the claim,” he said. “If not, we’d take them to small claims court.”

Dolores has been angered by Menu Foods lack of response and depressed that veterinarians can’t give her assurance her cat will fully recover. She’s been stressed by the veterinary bills, knowing more medical bills are on the way with her husband going in for surgery in April.

“It’s getting hairy,” Dolores said about the family finances.

But Dolores won’t skimp on medical care for Pee Shoo, named for the sound she made to scoot the cat off furniture when it was a kitten (as in p-shoe). More than anything, Dolores wants her admittedly spoiled cat back to her old high jinks.

“My animal is my heartbeat,” she said.