A heartbroken dog owner said she couldn't believe her eyes when she finally found her dog, three weeks after it went missing in badger tunnels near Darwen.

Lynn Wallwork was walking her two-year-old papillon Tara near Darwen back on October 23 when, during the walk, Tara went missing by the entrance to a badger sett.

Fearing the worst, Lynn rang the fire service only to be told they were unable to rescue her dog due to the hole it went down being confirmed as a badger sett, with the animals being a protected species.

 Lynn said: “ I just thought, oh, my goodness, if she's got to any badgers, that's the end of her.”

Scared for her pet and unsure of where to turn, Lynn contacted Greater Manchester Lost Dog Search & Rescue Capture Team, a not-for-profit organisation which has experience of locating lost dogs and reuniting them with their owners.

The group began a search effort for the little pooch. Founder, Michelle Newns-Peers, said: “We were thermal scoping the area and setting feed stations up in the area in case she managed to get out.

"The local badger organisation came once permission had been given by Natural England to put camera probes into the sett.”

However, days turned to weeks with no sign of Tara, and Michelle said they started to fear the worst.

One moment of hope was quickly dashed, with Lynn saying: “We thought we'd seen little legs, two little legs buried in the sand. I said, it has to have collapsed around her.

"I remember having this breakdown and going, if we'd been allowed in three days sooner, we could have got her alive. Then it turned out they were just white sticks, it wasn't her.”

Last week Lynn had all but given up hope, and said she "needed to admit to ourselves we're never going to see her again".

On Wednesday, November 15, 24 days after Tara went missing, while on a walk in the same area with her other dog Candy, Lynn said the dog began acting strange, which gave her the urge to shout Tara’s name, despite not doing it in weeks.

Lancashire Telegraph: Tara, left, and Candy, rightTara, left, and Candy, right (Image: Lynn Wallwork)

This was when Candy began dragging Lynn to the entrance of the sett, having seemingly sensed something of interest there.

Lynn said: “So I looked in the hole and I said, Tara. And this little head popped up from under the ground.

“I just thought, it couldn’t be Tara. That's my mind playing tricks with me. Is it a squirrel?

"For a split second I didn't believe it. But it didn't stop me. I went to get her, but my brain was saying, oh, this isn't real. Just after so long.

"I went to her and she came really slowly to me and licked my fingers and just let me pick her up. I was then running for the car and straight to the vets with her.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Tara on her first night at the vets after being rescuedTara on her first night at the vets after being rescued (Image: Lynn Wallwork)

Tara lost almost half her bodyweight in the three weeks, down from 3.4kg to 1.9kg, with vets believing she survived on a diet of dirt and insects.

She had an infection in both eyes and an ulcer in one, possibly caused by a trauma, which means she may lose the eye, but blood tests came back clear.

Tara is now back at home on the road to recovery.

Lynn added: "I still can’t believe she’s here with us alive. I cannot thank the brilliant team at GMLD enough for all they did for us.”

On Tara’s return, Michelle said: “We as a team were absolutely elated when Tara was found.

"We are still in shock that she managed to survive underground for so long!

"We are in awe of her with her fight to survive and keep going. She is one amazing little girl."

The GMLD Search & Rescue Capture Team uses every donation to help bring home more dogs like Tara, and donations can be made by visiting its Facebook page or website.