“People kept taking Leo’s shirts off because they thought he was hot,” said shopper Jeff Simpkins, who works as a commercial floor installer in Mount Laurel, and is a regular at the store.
Home Depot employees initially bought the cat T-shirts and dressed him up to keep him from removing a bandage after a trip to the vet to treat a scratch on his skin.
“Then they kept dressing him because they thought he looked cute,” Simpkins said.
Simpkins first met Leo in June when he was shopping at the store and came across a cat tree, a used litter box and a large planter filled with pillows and plush toys in the garden center.
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Simpkins is a cat lover with two cats at home named Will and Grace. He said he figured there must be a cat living in the store, so he asked an employee, who led him to the heating and air conditioning aisle and introduced him to Leo.
“I thought he was a pretty cool, plump-looking cat. He was also very friendly,” Simpkins said. “I’ve always been a cat guy, and I wondered if there was something I could do for him.”
The employee told Simpkins that the cat was adopted by staffers from an animal shelter about a year ago to help with a rodent problem at the store. Several employees take turns cleaning Leo’s litter box, filling his food and water bowls and changing his T-shirts, Simpkins said.
“I learned that he lived there year-round, and they didn’t close the store until they could find Leo and put him in the climate-controlled garden center for the night,” he said.
Simpkins decided to start visiting Leo several days a week. During one of his visits in June, he took along his cat Will, and he decided to shoot a video and put it on TikTok. The video, which showed Leo lounging in a planter in the garden department, quickly racked up more than 1.5 million views and hundreds of comments.
“I’m complaining to my local Home Depot, we don’t have a Leo,” one of his followers commented.
“He needs a Home Depot vest — he’s working hard!” suggested someone else.
“He’s an emotional support animal for everyone who spends too much money there,” one commenter noted.
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Over the summer, Simpkins would sometimes go every day to see Leo and make a TikTok, hoping the attention would help draw awareness to the importance of adopting homeless cats.
“People loved Leo, so I decided to keep going to the store to shoot videos,” he said.
In total, Simpkins’s Leo videos on TikTok have been viewed more than 35 million times over the summer, he said.
“A lot of people who live around here tell me they started coming in to visit Leo after they saw one of the videos,” Simpkins said.
Sometimes they bring cat treats when they stop to pet him and praise him.
“He loves that, but he also likes mice,” Simpkins said. “When I was here the other day, I was told he ate an entire small mouse.”
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Leo always eats what he catches and doesn’t usually leave remnants behind, he said.
The cat has been known to occasionally chase customers’ dogs around the store, but Leo generally gets along with everyone, Simpkins added.
Home Depot’s corporate office declined to allow employees at the Mount Laurel store to comment publicly about Leo, but a company spokesperson said the cat is a welcome addition to the store.
“We understand that Leo has become a big sensation. But the store team is extremely busy, and we don’t want to distract from the business,” Home Depot corporate communications manager Terrance Roper wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
“I can tell you that our store was proud to have adopted Leo, and we’re thrilled that Leo loves taking care of our people as much as we love taking care of him,” Roper added.
Simpkins said he recently started an Amazon wish list for the home improvement feline to keep him supplied with outfits, treats and catnip toys.
Although he bought Leo a new cat bed, he said the dapper feline seems content to lounge on top of cardboard boxes or inside of them, which at a Home Depot store, is like reaching feline nirvana.
Leo isn’t the first cat to take up residence inside a Home Depot — a cat named Cat runs free in a Home Depot in Chandler, Ariz., and an orange cat named Oscar lives in a store just 20 minutes away from Leo in Cherry Hill, N.J.
But Simpkins said Leo is probably the best dressed. A “Hocus Pocus” T-shirt he bought the cat last Halloween is among Simpkins’s favorite outfits.
“He doesn’t have any pajamas yet, but the people who work here love to dress him, and he’s getting quite the wardrobe,” he said.
For the past couple weeks, though, Leo hasn’t worn clothing at all. The cat has a small spot of irritated skin — brought on by excessive licking and scratching — that needs to heal. Simpkins said a T-shirt could cause it further irritation.
He said Leo should be back to his fashionable self soon.
Customers who come to the store to visit Leo enjoy the challenge of finding him, he said, since the cat roams wherever he likes, from the bath and hardware sections to the door department — probably Leo’s least favorite place, since cats famously hate closed doors.
“You’ll find him almost anywhere, but the strangest place I’ve found him is in the plumbing aisle, curled up inside a box, sleeping on top of some of the merchandise,” Simpkins said.
“Like any cat, he’ll sleep anywhere,” he said.