What do I need to consider when working with Santa to put a surprise kitten under the tree on Christmas morning?
What supplies and things do I need to have to introduce a a young cat for (sort of) the first time into our family, and what actions will we need to take to integrate the kitten into our house?
tl;dr: Please add to this list:
Stuff to Have
something to scratch
Stuff to Do
keep kitten in one room for X days
introduce dog and people to kitten in small doses
use litterbox from day one
Let me say upfront this isn't a gift for unprepared little kids and the creature in question won't be returned (it won't even be under the tree, it will probably be in my bedroom, there will be cat-toys or a framed photo or some other representation under the tree), so no worries there.
Background for those who would worry about the well-being of the cat in question: We are three mostly adults (kids are 18 and 17), and a very sweet, very old lab mutt. A few months back I suggested to my boys that we get a puppy to keep our old girl company, to give her purpose and energy. She fostered a kitten once, a long time ago, and she has welcomed various temporary dogs and cats into her life over the years, none of which we were primary caretakers for. She can't hear much and her vision is going but she's still up for a walk or a tussle anytime. Having another critter around would be good for her.
Secretly I also want to get another critter so that my kid1 has some solace when our sweet old girl inevitably dies. The studies done about the positive effects animals can have on people's mental health
could have used him as a subject. She is his touchstone, she's been with him since he was 9, she sleeps with him, etc. Losing a pet is a normal rite of passage but this kid's been through a lot, I want him to have another connection before he loses this first, formative one.
So I suggested we get a puppy and the boys were up for it, and we went to the local no-kill shelter ... where the dog area was very sad. Lots of big, older dogs that don't play well with others. But they were more interested in the cats anyway. Further discussion says although I am a dog-person, they would prefer a cat. They are willing to negotiate as we all recognize that the nest will likely empty out over the next few years and the critter will end up being mine alone for the long term. Secretly I am ok with a cat but I want them to want it enough to convince me, as the responsibility will be shared.
Then a week ago kid1 and I went to the pet store to get dog food for the sweet old girl, and wouldn't you know it but the no-kill shelter has an adoption area there with a dozen young overflow cats ... and it was cage-cleaning playtime, so kid1 and I spent a half-hour talking with the volunteer and coaxing various kittens out from under shelves and ducking when they bounded unexpectedly across the room. OK, so they're cute. Kid1 connected with one young cat in particular,* who wanted nothing to do with me or the volunteer but followed every motion kid1 made, and ended up allowing himself to be petted. I took a picture with my phone which kid1 pooh-poohed but then quietly saved as the background on his phone.
So I am pretty much ready to cross over to the dark side, and just need some schooling on how to do that. Hopefully I've given enough background to convince the cat-lovers that even though I'm doing the Christmas morning cliche, this won't be the kind of surprise pet that ends up with a sad ending because nobody was prepared for the responsibility.
*Added bonus, the cat's shelter name is Presley, so you know his name will be Elvis. And a cat named Elvis is guaranteed to be a cool cat indeed.