I generally discourage people from giving pets as holiday gifts. Between shopping, family visits and everything else, there’s just too much chaos to make it safe. But if you think you and your children are ready to have a cat in your lives, and you believe the holiday season is a good time to fulfill their wish, here’s a way to make it work for both your children and the cat.
If you know you want to allow your children to have a new cat friend, you’ll have to prepare ahead of time. You’ll need to have everything in place: a cat carrier, cat litter and a litter box, food, toys, dishes, and some scratching posts. While you’re doing your holiday shopping, pick up these items, too.
There are lots of great books about cats and cat care for children of all ages. Check out this list of 23 children’s story books about cats for some ideas. For cat care guides, try Everything Cat by Marty Crisp (grades 3-6); How to Care for Your Cat: A Color and Learn Guide (Kindergarten-grade 5); or The ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats for teenage readers. There are a lot of great cat care books out there, at all grade levels. If you can’t buy these books, check your local library.
This is another part of the planning process. You want to be able to set aside a couple of hours while your kids are on holiday vacation so that you as a family can go to the shelter and have enough time to find a cat that’s going to be the best fit for your family. Make sure your shelter visit is at least a couple of days before school vacation ends, so your kids and the cat get to know each other.
It’s super fun to get gradual hints about what’s going to happen. Try putting a couple of gift-wrapped cat toys in the children’s Christmas stockings.
In my family, we opened our presents carefully, one at a time, taking turns, and my mother handed them out in a specific order. Among the gifts you give your kids, slip the cat books in and make sure each child gets their book at the same time.
Another Christmas tradition in my family was the “grand finale gift,” the one my mother knew we wanted more than anything else. If you’re giving your kids the gift of a cat, make the grand finale gift a big box filled with the carrier, food, dishes, toys, litter box and liter inside — and of course make sure it’s addressed to all the kids. Once they open the grand finale gift, then present the real surprise: You’re going to take them to the shelter to find a cat! Tell them what day you’re going, too.
In order to make sure you get a cat who will be happy with your family, and with whom the kids will be happy, be honest about your kids’ dispositions and your family’s lifestyle so that the staff can help you find the right cat. Don’t be afraid to adopt an adult cat, either. And If they happen to fall for an older or special-needs cat, make sure they understand this isn’t an ordinary cat and he’ll need special care. As long as they know what the deal is and they’re okay with it, let them adopt the cat if he’s a good fit for your family.
And that is how you give your kids a cat for Christmas and allow them to feel a sense of responsibility and connection to their new feline friend.
This article is focused on Christmas because that’s the holiday tradition my family celebrates, but there are lots of other religious and spiritual winter holidays. If you celebrate a different holiday, how would you tailor this process to work with your religious and cultural beliefs? Please share your ideas in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.