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Meet Leo, the TikTok famous cat who lives inside a South Jersey Home Depot

Leo lives inside The Home Depot in Mount Laurel's East Gate shopping center. TikToks of his store antics have been viewed more than 23 million times.

Leo is a former stray living at the Home Depot in Mount Laurel, where employees take care of him. A customer's videos of Leo uploaded to the TikTok account @cat_dad_2020 have been viewed over 23 million times.
Leo is a former stray living at the Home Depot in Mount Laurel, where employees take care of him. A customer's videos of Leo uploaded to the TikTok account @cat_dad_2020 have been viewed over 23 million times.Read moreCourtesy Jeffrey Simpkins

Move over bodega cats and bookstore cats, there’s a new shop kitty in town: the Home Depot cat.

Leo is a stray who was adopted by the staff at the Home Depot inside the East Gate shopping center in Mount Laurel in the summer of 2022, according to store manager John Vazquez.

“We knew instantly this was his new home,” Vazquez told The Inquirer. “He is unlike any other cat.”

Vazquez said Leo has always “loved people and attention,” but his outgoing personality reached new levels when Jeff Simpkins, a Mount Laurel resident and commercial floorer, started chronicling Leo’s adventures among the aisles of tools and paint chips on a TikTok account called @cat_dad_2020 in June.

Simpkins helps the home improvement store’s employees take care of Leo, a highly vocal kitty who enjoys modeling his 20-odd novelty T-shirts, sleeping in shopping carts, and using his powers of cuteness to convince customers to bring him treats.

The employees “have really taken Leo under their wing,” Simpkins said. He said workers at Leo’s Home Depot say that Leo has been “eating a lot better and been in a better mood,” thanks to Simpkins’ TikToks, which have inspired others to pop into the store or purchase toys for him through an Amazon wish list.

The Home Depot declined to say if Leo’s presence has improved store sales — but did confirm that he “absolutely” loves pets and belly rubs.

Simpkins’ videos of Leo have been viewed upward of 23 million times on TikTok, and conjure up a children’s book tale of a store cat with a secret life. He sleeps in the garden center at night and roams the premises for mice, playing hide-and-seek on high shelves and among chair cushions.

Leo also has other cat friends: Simpkins likes to bring his twin 2-year-old American shorthairs, Will and Grace, to visit. They like to perch on shopping carts and stare at each other.

“I’m complaining to my local Home Depot. We don’t have a Leo,” one TikTok account commented under the first video of Leo that Simpkins posted, which has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

“Excuse me while I figure out the PATH train, just so I can gift this cat some clothes,” wrote another user under a video of Leo snoozing belly up in a shopping cart next to a sign asking people to stop stealing his shirts.

“Leo should be promoted to manager,” another TikToker chimed in.

The Inquirer spoke with Simpkins about being the internet’s most notable cat dad, his relationship with Leo, and how Leo has been responding to his fame.

How did you become cat dad?

My first cat was an orange cat named Shay — that’s who made me a “cat dad.” Someone I was seeing at the time came up with that nickname for me, and it just stuck.

Shay ran away right around the time this cat my friends rescued had kittens, and that’s how I got Will and Grace.

How did you first become acquainted with Leo?

I was in the garden center looking for solar spotlights when I saw a cat tree with a little plump cat laying there with a shirt on. I asked an employee, “Does this cat live here? I never noticed them.”

He’s been my guy ever since.

Since you visit almost daily, are you buying something every time you go to the Home Depot?

Every now and then I might buy something, but Leo is the number one reason why I stop there.

I come in every few days with stuff for Leo from Pet Smart. I just bought him a new bed and a T-shirt, but generally it’s appetizers and catnip treats.

How do your cats Will and Grace feel about Leo being the most famous of the bunch?

I don’t think they mind. I actually try to bring Will or Grace half the time I visit and film them in the cart so they don’t get too jealous.

Do you think Leo understands that he’s famous?

No. I know some cats play to the camera, but every time I film Leo, he has no idea what I’m doing.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.