Proof at last in one of civilization's oldest and most heated debates: Dogs are cleverer and more loyal than cats.

A paper to be published by a British scientist in an Italian scientific journal asserts that dogs have superior cognitive abilities to cats. Most dogs can tell when their owners are coming home; most cats can't.According to research carried out by Rupert Sheldrake, a former Cambridge University chemist, more than half of dogs appear to know when their owners are coming home while only a quarter of cats exhibit any "perceptive" tendencies at all.

The claim is the result of a survey of pet owners in London following similar studies in Manchester and California that found 52 percent of dog owners said their animals knew in advance when a member of the household was on the way home. One-fifth exhibited signs of their owner's return more than 10 minutes in advance.

In "Perceptive Pets: A Survey in London," published in the journal Rivista di Biologia, Sheldrake says some owners say their pets can respond directly to their thoughts or silent commands or are telepathic with them. Claims by owners for a "sixth sense" for their pets nearly always feature dogs and cats but never other pets such as hamsters or gerbils.

Sheldrake insists he is not barking mad himself. Skeptics, including most orthodox scientists, will point to the excellent senses of smell and hearing of dogs, he agrees. They claim dogs recognize their owner's car in the drive; know they always return just after the theme tune of a soap opera or have imaginative owners who tell fibs.

To test this skepticism he is conducting experiments with "psychic pets" to eliminate mundane explanations for their unusual powers.

They involve setting up video cameras in the homes of pet owners to record animals' activities while their owners are away. Then they ask owners to return home at unpredictable times - by taxi and not their own car. Reviewing this evidence, he says that while some dogs are stripped of their psychic powers - most are not.

"The most extraordinary examples," he explained, "have been dogs who begin to get excited when their owners are about to get on an airplane to fly home from thousands of miles away."

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service