A DOG that sparked a massive search operation after it went missing on the Blackdown Hills on Boxing Day has been found dead.

Owner Nicky Fox employed a thermal drone to search for Milo during a walk on Staple Hill almost seven weeks ago.

He was known to still be alive in the Staple Fitzpaine area three weeks ago, but soon afterwards appears to have returned to woodland, where his body has now been discovered.

Nicky, who had been staying with family in Wellington over the festive period, had been out walking her two dogs, when they both ran off.

She said Milo failed to return, which sparked the search operation.

READ MORE: Drones used in search for missing dog.

"The not knowing has been unimaginably awful," added Nicky.

"But we had hope up to the very last day, when we thought he was barking in daytime at last and near the village.

"At the moment we feel intolerable grief instead, but now we can bring him home to rest and we can start to replace the tears with laughter as we remember all the funny, loving little things he did. He will always be present in our lives.

"I want to thank every single person that has helped, in any way. There are people I’ve never met that have spent hours putting up posters, or scanning the fields with binoculars, or just sending their love and kind messages."

She said she is indebted to volunteers from DogLost UK and Lost Dog Recovery UK South for their tireless hours and days of searching, making posters, deploying cameras, thermal drones and cameras, research and moral support.

"We may have come to a tragic end point, but the teams made sure we had every possible chance of finding Milo alive, and without their unconditional support and their expertise we would all have been utterly lost form the beginning," added Nicky, who is asking anyone seeing a Milo poster to take it down.