GATINEAU, Que. - Two dead Canadian cattle, bovines brought down by a barrage of police bullets, are attracting a wave of international sympathy in the wake of their violent demise.

Supporters from around the world have expressed outrage in online forums like YouTube and the website of a British newspaper.

More than 157,000 people have seen the YouTube video of their killing by police officers last week in Gatineau, Que., with thousands more clicking by the hour. A story Monday on the website of Britain's Daily Mail was titled: Don't Moooove, or I'll Shoot!

The animals' deaths have prompted a letter-writing campaign, organized by an animal-rights group, that targets the Gatineau police force.

The woman who created the campaign said she had mixed reactions upon seeing the video.

"In some sense it's shocking footage -- it's horrible, you hear the person who was recording it and the shock of her voice as well," said Twyla Francois, head of investigation for Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Food Animals.

"But in another way it wasn't shocking because this really represents what we've been finding in our investigations."

The cattle were already destined for the slaughterhouse when they escaped from a trailer last Thursday. They subsequently began stomping around, leading police on a chase near rural Highway 148.

Video of the incident shows police cars, their lights and sirens going, chasing and then surrounding one of the animals. Officers fired at least 10 shots from close range at one steer.

A police officer can be heard firing six initial shots, slowing the animal down before officers scamper to their cars to cut off its escape.

An officer then fires four more times as that same steer limps away. Both animals were shot dead.

Part of the scene was recorded by horrified witnesses. One can be overheard swearing in disbelief at the events unfolding.

"What are they shooting it for?" one witness is overheard asking. "That's not really a gun, is it?"

On the Internet, many are chiding Gatineau police for excessive cruelty and a lack of compassion toward the animals. While some sprang to the police's defence, most expressed shock.

One sarcastic Daily Mail reader commented: "That vicous (sic) cow! With sirens, lights, people, and chaos! I bet it was a serious threat! I'm so glad you big strong men saved us all from that cow! Cows are kown (sic) for their killing sprees thank god you saved humanity! ... IDIOTS with GUNS!!!!!!"

Another wrote: "Makes me sick to my stomach and want to cry. I just don't understand human beings."

Gatineau police have defended their actions, saying the animals posed a risk to the public and there was no choice but to shoot.

"They determined the bull was really aggressive and he was a threat for the population," said Const. Pierre Lanthier, a police spokesman.

"They tried to bring the animal back into the trailer with the help of the owner but it was impossible."

Police said the animals rushed at police cruisers on a couple of occasions and, as they neared an elementary school, the cattle owner had given police permission to shoot.

Lanthier said some police cars are equipped with rifles, but none of the officers on duty had access to one.

The officers tried to contact Quebec wildlife officials, but were informed they didn't deal with that kind of animal.

Gatineau police said Monday that they have no plans to train officers to use tranquilizer guns.

"That's why we had to do it by ourselves and a police officer had to take a decision and kill the beast," Lanthier said.

As in any case when a firearm is discharged, an administrative review will take place, Lanthier said.

CETFA says it's hard to believe that domesticated cattle could have produced such a threat.

In a statement on the group's website urging people write letters to Gatineau police chief Mario Harel, CETFA said: "Had these officers shown this same treatment to a dog, they would be facing animal cruelty charges."

Francois' non-profit group monitors the treatment of animals raised for the purpose of food.

She says Canada lags behind when it comes to having proper training and protocols for people who transport animals. Ottawa has promised new rules for six years, but has yet to follow through.

"If we had a proper training program for our livestock haulers, which they do in Europe ... this wouldn't have become an issue of public safety," Francois said in an interview from Winnipeg.

"That driver would have known the behaviour of that cow and how to round him up again."