Reader’s cat pees in electrical socket

April 8, 2014 • 2:57 pm

First, no harm done to the cat, thank Ceiling Cat (praise be unto Him). This would have made a good story for the Cat Confessions Contest, but, sadly, it came in too late. (BTW, I’m slowly sending out books to the winners.) It was submitted by reader Lorena Moore (“ironwing”):

Here is a true story from our house, the Island of Misfit Cats.

Evidence for the Infernal Nature of Basement Cat:

A few days ago I heard a noise coming from the kitchen:  two short, harsh buzzing sounds in quick succession.  Everything seemed OK and all seven cats were standing around waiting to be fed.

Then I saw the electrical outlet with soot around the holes and a puddle on the floor.  Impy had sprayed the wall and the outlet had shorted out and burned.
I started cleaning up and the bleach fumes triggered the the outlet again.  It crackled and shot a fountain of sparks.

After seeing that, I checked Impy’s fur and found a dusting of ash on his tail.  I called an electrician.  An hour and $200 later, we had a new Impy-proof outlet.

Old and new outlets:


Here’s Impy standing on the patio wall and wearing his harness and leash.  We take him outside on the back patio for a walk every day.



Impy was our first black cat and is about thirteen years old.  We trapped him as a stray in 2003.  Still our biggest and blackest, he is now Top Cat.

He came to us with an infected dog bite on his shoulder and impaired vision.  The vet diagnosed him with taurine deficiency retinopathy. He developed cataracts a few years later and is now nearly blind, though he can still see some contrast in very bright light outdoors. The black stripe in his right eye is an old claw wound from his time as a stray, and is nicknamed the “glint of evil”.



In addition to the self-inflicted lightning strike, he has survived pancreatitis, acute toxoplasmosis, and giardia.

He is very gentle, loving, and affectionate.  When we adopted eight shelter cats over a period of several months, he welcomed them as buddies.

Here’s Impy (top of photo) with some of his friends on our bed.  This is an old picture and only four of these cats are still with us, including Impy’s best buddy Leon, who is looking at the camera.


I think Lorena beats Linda Grilli for the reader having the most black cats.

52 thoughts on “Reader’s cat pees in electrical socket

  1. Oh, my! He’s sure living up to his name.

    Of all the things in the world to collect, black cats has got to be one of the best. Lorena, you and the clowder are most lucky, indeed!


    1. I do feel very lucky. A few years ago we had twelve cats, nine of them black, and eight of those were the remnants of a shelter colony and had been labeled “feral” and “nonadoptable”.

      Sadly we are down to seven cats (five black ones), all between twelve and fourteen years old.

      Impy started doing “bad kitty” things as soon as we took him in, hence the name.

      1. Ah, a baker’s half dozen of teenaged cats…enjoy every day while it lasts, and may you beat the odds and have at least a decade yet out of the oldest. Still, I fear there is yet more heartbreak in your not-too-distant future…the Fates just don’t devote long enough threads to the cats….


  2. I wonder if Impy got shocked?

    I’ve heard of someone, in response to a dog of the habit of peeing on their front porch, rolling naked wire under a rug and connecting it to a light socket and, when the pooch began initiating Operation Golden Flow, flipping on the light switch.

  3. One of mine did the same to a light switch for an under cabinet light. the switch is about 8″ off the counter underneath. My Daughter yelled to me that there were sparks and smoke coming from the switch. I come down and indeed they were. I took off the coverplate and could see blue arcing from the hot terminal to the grounded metal of the switch. After turning off the breaker I could see crystals and an oily yellow liquid there as well as in the bottom of the box. I don’t know which of our 5 did it but…

        1. You can find them; and you can certainly wire them up yourself with a regular little switch and the socket and a cover plate like this.

          Seems like a hassle to me …

          The sealed cover is likely more effective in this case anyway.

      1. our plugs have ‘off’ switches.

        That varies. It’s certainly recommended, but it’s not required.
        Having just checked the work that we had the builder do when we moved in … the new sockets do have individual switches, but the old sockets don’t. It wasn’t something that I thought about specifying – unlike the standard process of “think how many socket’s you’re going to need, then double it.”
        On the other hand, when building computerised portakabins for work onshore and offshore, I’ve had the DNV (Det Norske Veritas, the certifying agency who say to insurance companies that equipment for a vessel is fit for use at sea) inspector tell me to strip out un-switched sockets and replace them with switched sockets. I didn’t argue – I don’t know what the reason for the specification was, but past experience tells me that there is normally a sufficiently good reason, and that these rules are generally written in someone’s blood.
        Don’t forget RCDs where appropriate. And unplug unless you really know that you have to work on something live.

  4. I missed the Cat Confessions Contest, but my girlfriend has a cat whose behavior I have wanted to ask you about. He was rescued from the street in very bad shape a few years ago, has been neutered, is an inside cat, and never sprays, but he has a girlfriend—a velour-covered neck cushion, his second, since he eventually destroyed the first. He has “sex” with her on occasion, during which he drags her up onto the bed, yowls horribly, kneads her and humps at her for several minutes with no emissions, then takes a nap. My girlfriend has seen no pattern in this behavior, except one. We have sex in the afternoon, usually on Saturday, finishing up around dinnertime. Invariably, while we’re getting ready to go to dinner, Fillmore, the cat, drags his girlfriend up on the bad and goes at it. We’ve wondered what sets him off. Might there be some scent we’re giving off, pheromones, or what? Any ideas?

  5. Nine lives are hardly sufficient in some cases.

    Kudos for taking in all the black kites–they can be the hardest for shelters to adopt out.

    1. black kites–they can be the hardest for shelters to adopt out.

      I’ve heard that before, but never understood it. “Work of the Devil”, perhaps?
      Another one to blame on religion, and a major one.

      1. Yeah, black animals carry those ridiculous superstitions so are harder to adopt out. I had many a black lab that people would fear based on superstition. My last one ferociously barked at JW’s when they came to the door – the JW’s made haste to leave. 🙂

        Sad though – I love black coloured fur even if my latest rescue dog is yellow (I decided to stop being biased when I adopted :))

      2. In this case, the religion issue (if/when there is one) isn’t the main problem. Black cats are simply more numerous than most other colors, so more of them end up in shelters, where they are often overlooked in favor of more striking or “pretty” colors. Even shelter staff and volunteers are less likely to socialize the black cats because “they all look alike”, so they’re more likely to be shy, scruffy, or otherwise unattractive to adopters. When I worked at the shelter, we did adopt out a lot of black cats, usually when they were individually introduced to the visitors.

        1. Black cats are simply more numerous than most other colors, so more of them end up in shelters,

          Hmmm, I wouldn’t really have thought so, from what I see on the streets. But since you’ve worked in shelters, I’ll take your word for it. For your area ; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are regional variations.
          I’m thinking that I really need to bone up on my cat genetics w.r.t. coat colours … hmmm, quite a bit there ; a considerable number of loci.

          1. There are certainly regional and national variations, and some places seem to have very few black cats but lots of white and tabby ones, etc. My area has a lot of black ones and a few colors (such as white and torbie, like my cat Smally) that seem to be rare elsewhere.

            Here’s a good summary of cat coat color genetics, though I think it would be more helpful if it were illustrated:

        2. Maybe that’s just in your area, ironwing. But in general black cats are known for evoking superstitious bias. See:

          “Black cats are far more likely to be euthanized than other cats…”

          Around here it is also common for shelters to put a moratorium on black cat adoptions around Halloween, as there are some people who will adopt them for nefarious purposes.

    1. A.k.a a ground loop fault detector or Residual Current Detector.
      Many names for the same device – they all compare the current going in one direction through the live line with the current returning in the opposite direction through the neutral (in some country’s practices “return”) line. If there’s a difference, then there must be current leaking to ground somewhere and returning to the power station through the ground. That leaking current may be through a person … which is why the RCD (or whatever else it is called in your country) will then break BOTH lines immediately.
      They’re not infallible, but they can, literally, be life savers. Whenever I make an extension lead, particularly a large one that is likely to be used in the garden, I make it with an RCD on the plug end, so that the whole of the extension lead is protected.
      Such an RCD-protected extension lead can be a nightmare if someone is trying to use an arc welder on it. Not that I’d suggest playing such a trick, even on a lanky git of a buddy who’s a welder. As if I’d do a thing like that deliberately. Accidentally, on the other hand …

        1. I’ve taken enough electrical belts over the years to not really desire to see any more.
          On the other hand … watching the (geology, degree level) class’ pet creationist (now a competent hydrogeologist, name redacted because he’s a nice guy, even if he did have the misfortune to have Christian Scientists for parents) pee against an electrical fence … was amusing. All the better for the “slackers and smokers” group all being watching from our smoking hide-away and every one of us not shouting a warning.
          I also got a “most creative excuse for not doing his homework” out of electrical shocks. That involved waist-length hair and a van deGraff generator.

          1. Yeah, I remember getting a bad shock at my job as a teenager cleaning out a machine that was still plugged in. It flung my arm back & it really hurt!

          2. “The burned hand teaches best.”
            The scars from learning to dry out the mould before pouring the molten lead into it have faded over the years. The memory hasn’t.

          3. I actually have some brand-new scars that have taught me a similar lesson about the proper technique for adding potatoes to hot bacon drippings….


          4. You’d think I’d learn but I did it more than once (sometimes without shocks). This is why I would have had no limbs if I had grown up during the Industrial Revolution or hadn’t escaped into the so-called “middle class”.

  6. Oh yes, the golden olden days without mandatory ground-fail and short breakers. Impy would have brought my whole household to a stop (the shared ground-fail breaker is the fastest, of course).

    But it doesn’t stop there. I’m always looking at US outlets and think: “Seriously? And when are you going to change those toys?” =D

    1. BTW, thinking of the cats, cat owners may want to try the newest breakers. I’m not sure, but I think they would save even a small cat from more severe damage.

      1. TBH, I don’t recall seeing any RCDs that advertised anything other than a 40mA trip current (difference). While I don’t know the detailed justification for that figure, it’s a play-off between false alarms (or false trips – see previous comment about welding machines) and risk to the user. There’s a rule of thumb for electrical safety that any current over about 20mA can kill a human – if it goes through the heart, at the wrong part of the electrical pulse cycle. You can easily get 20mA out of a dry (Leclanche) cell if you can get over the skin resistance.
        I don’t know what the current limit for a cat is. To a first approximation, I’d say they’re both mammals, with approximately the same internal structures, sooooo I’d take 20mA as the limit for all mammals, and possibly all terrestrial vertebrates.
        Unfortunately, I would guess that an RCD that triggered at that low a current would either be prohibitively expensive, or prone to failure unrealistically early (so many cycles). Also, most RCDs are electromechanical – counter-wound solenoids for the live and neutral lines, which result in a mechanical circuit breaker being triggered if there’s a current difference greater than X. So the device needs to take some power from the line supply to trigger. And the number of cycles before the circuit breaker fails is going to be limited.
        You could also, I suppose, produce a digital RCD rather than the analogue one I’ve just described. But that would require quite sensitive and accurate current sensors … and precise set-up. IANA electronics engineer, but I’ve had to do enough instrument design in the past to look at that and say “let’s not go that way”.
        The biggest difference between a new RCD and an older one is likely to be in the speed at which the electromechanical chain operates. Which is likely to be mainly related to the number of cycles of operation there has been on the RCD.
        But there will also be (on average) a half-cycle of the line voltage delay before the current leakage reaches a sufficient value to trigger the breaker. That’d be 1/200 second in most of the world and Western Japan, or 1/240 second in the rest of the world and Eastern Japan. (Yes, I did mean what I said about Japan. It’s a lovely example of historical contingency compared to (small-i) intelligent (small-d) design.)

    1. Not at all.

      Cats should no more be outdoors unleashed than dogs. Yes, there are safe and secure areas where no leash is necessary, but if the cat cat get out of that area or if there’s anything dangerous nearby, the cat should be leashed just as the dog should.

      Baihu and I go for lots of walks, including around the neighborhood and in South Mountain Park (and elsewhere), and he’s on a leash from before we leave the house until we’re back home.


  7. Yes, Lorena has me beat, especially because I’m now down to three black ones. I lost Bibiana about six weeks ago to enteritis. We managed to kill the infection, but she went into renal failure and we couldn’t save her, although we tried. So, I just have the three, plus Clawed and Pewter in the house.

    And, I lost Silky last fall to old age.

    But, I talked to one of my vets last night, who told me that she gets boxes of dumpoff cats left on her clinic doorstep occasionally, so I gave her a BOLO.

    But, I have no color preference. I told her my only criteria are that they are kittens rather than adults, and that they be negative for FeLu. L

    1. So sorry to hear about your losses. Even when old age takes them, their absence is deeply disorienting.

      My vet just had a couple of cats dumped a the clinic, and the staff offered me one of them. Lovely white longhaired male, ten years old, probably a good fit for our gang. But we’ve decided not to take in any more for now.

      1. Thank you.

        Losing Silky was sad but not unexpected, but losing Bibi was a shock. We’d brought her home after three days in the clinic, and it looked like she was over it. She was eating and perky, but crashed all at once, and we couldn’t turn it around the second time. She wasn’t even four years old.

        I will probably always have cats; I can’t imagine a life without them. And, the thought of someone just dumping them breaks my heart.

        I like to start with kittens, though. First, I want to socialize them myself; also I enjoy the kitten stage, even though it can be destructive at times. And, because I have the dairy, if I get them young and give them milk, they don’t lose the ability to digest it. All my cats like their milk a lot.

        Several years ago, I had a cat that lived to be 23 years old. I got her as a kitten, and she lived in the barn and was very bonded with the goats. I know that milk kept her going all those years. L

  8. That is a cat who has lived a life.
    It’s not easy to photograph black cats, and you make it harder by using a white background (last picture). Still the result is a lot better than the seven black holes I would have expected.

  9. First, no harm done to the cat, thank Ceiling Cat (praise be unto Him).

    Are we going to tease Islam now? All praise be to Ceiling Cat, no fleas be upon him.

  10. So why is the cat peeing outside the litter box? Cat owners have told me it’s a poorly trained cat that does that and is pretty rare.

    I understand that cat pee is very stinky and almost impossible to get out of whatever they spray it on.

    Makes me not want a cat.

    1. Male cats tend to spray to mark territory, particularly if they are not neutered or feel threatened by other male cats moving in. Sudden changes in a litter box situation can also make them uncomfortable using it and motivate them to try other areas instead.

      All moggies have different personalities though. My aunt had a cat that insisted on peeing on a particular telephone on a regular basis, despite all attempts to persuade him otherwise. Some cats are just not cut out for indoor living.

    2. Actually, inappropriate elimination is often a sign of either a medical condition (with urinary tract infections on the very short list) or stress (especially from other cats preventing the low-totem one from using the litterbox).

      For multiple cat households, the standard formula is one litterbox per cat plus one. Self-cleaning litterboxes can reduce that number.

      If that’s not the cause of the problem, a trip to the vet is called for, and sooner rather than later. Especially with boy cats…crystals in the urine can lead first to dysuria (which triggers inappropriate urination), and shockingly rapidly thereafter to a blocked urethra followed by death. There’re many other less scary possibilities, but that one is common enough that you don’t want to treat it lightly.

      Cats are a serious responsibility, as with any living being…but they’re pretty low maintenance, actually, for the most part. And Baihu could be a royal pain in the ass to take care of and I still wouldn’t give him up; he’s worth all that and much, much, much more.



  11. I don’t wish to impugn Ironwing’s testimony, but I seriously doubt bleach “fumes” caused the outlet to spark. Perhaps cleaner was sprayed in the vicinity and the droplets of liquid created an ionic pathway that allowed a short-circuit.
    In any case, let this be a lesson to us all, LEARN which circuit breakers control each outlet (and keep in mind that an outlet can be on a different circuit from its neighbor), and POWER-DOWN outlets before we try to clean them!

    1. No spray was involved and the outlet wasn’t touched. I was using a bucket and rag to clean the floor. Bleach water reacts quite energetically with cat puddles to produce chlorine gas, which might be what set off the outlet. And, as the electrician discovered, the outlet was already damaged from previous episodes of Impy-badness, so who knows?
      The house was built in 1969 and many of the outlets are worn out, though it’s taken awhile for us to realize it because we don’t use most of them. I do need to be more systematic about testing them and having the bad ones replaced.

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