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Cats are predatory mammals that evolved on Earth and were later transported to the Koprulu Sector by terrans. They have established themselves successfully as pets and even as independent scavenging/predatory creatures, depending on the environment.
Cats are intelligent creatures, their thoughts sophisticated enough to be read by a telepath, though still falling far short of the sophistication of a human thoughtstream. It appears that cats see terrans as "big hairless cats", hence why they're willing to be friends with strangers.