Honey is home again - at least back to her temporary safe haven at Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue - but it's been a long haul for the twice-rescued Belgian mare.

After months of old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes detective work and the help of modern social media Honey was finally returned last month after being MIA for months.

The winding trail took rescuers thousands of miles from the Maryland shelter and provides lessons for animal rescues and adopters.

Honey's story began five years ago in northeastern Pennsylvania when a shelter in Warren County called Gentle Giants for help with a case involving 32 starving Belgian horses. They were owned by a former show stable near Erie that had fallen on hard times and simply stopped feeding its animals.

As it has in many Pennsylvania cases, Gentle Giants stepped in to help, traveling 300 miles to rescue seven of the malnourished horses - many of them young and so underweight that adults looked like foals.

Among them was Honey who was just two years old but her growth was stunted by poor nutrition. In 2011, after two years of good care and training, she was adopted to a doctor in Virginia with great references and a well-kept property.

Gentle Giants founder Christine Hajek said for a while everything seemed fine, until a Christmas card sent by the rescue last year came back undeliverable.

That was an alarm bell for Hajek who stipulates in the contracts that adopters notify the rescue when they move.

"They have to give 30 days advanced notification when they move a horse and we have the opportunity to approve or disapprove where the horse goes," Hajek said.

The owner was finally tracked down in Texas. She told Hajek she had lost interest in her horses and told her boarding stable to sell Honey. Once again the owner had violated terms of the contract which stipulates that owners shall not sell an adopted horse without notifying the rescue which has the right to take possession of the horse.

What happened next is worthy of a Law and Order episode. Unable to follow Honey's trail through the adopter, Hajek took to Facebook, sent out "Missing" posters and hired a private investigator  to find her.

It turns out Honey was passed around by horse traders like a bronco in the old West. She was flipped five times before Hajek finally located her thanks to an eagle-eyed classified ad spotter in Texas who learned of Honey's plight on Facebook. By the time Hajek got the seller on the phone and told them what had happened the horse's price suddenly jumped fivefold  to $5,000.

Determined to bring her back east whatever the cost, Hajek paid the "ransom" sum and had her transported to Maryland. Honey lumbered off the trailer 200 pounds underweight but she had clearly not been abused - a relief for Hajek and her volunteers who were mortified that a horse who had suffered so when she was young would endure another period of neglect.

"She was living behind a trailer and a barbed-wire fence," said Hajek. "She was not in a fully neglected state but if sustained any medical emergency – no means to provide for her. She had inadequate hoof care and no vaccines."

But the story doesn't end there. Hajek held the owner to her contract. She agreed to pay the sales price - which was paid out as a reward to a deserving family in Texas who spotted the classified ad - and in exchange Hajek promised not to reveal her name.

Hajek says the case should be a lesson to everyone involved in saving animals of all sizes. Rescues must do whatever they can to ensure the animals that they adopt aer safe and that adopters recognize that they have signed a legally binding documents when they adopt a homeless animal, she said.

"This was not the first case like this we’ve been through," she said. "There's a prevalent notion that you don’t have to honor these contracts, that organizations don’t contact adopters. What happened to Honey why organizations need contract not change hands. Otherwise you have no control over what happens next."

Gentle Giants has rescued some 500 horses since its founding in 2005 and adopted out 275 of them.

Even as the shelter scrutinizes its adopters, about 20 percent of the horses will come back, usually between year four and five, she said.

Hajek said Gentle Giants would have happily taken back Honey and spared her the flipping ordeal in Texas.

She says the case raises questions that rescue operators should consider.

"If  they are not following horses and not assuring they're safe, what's the point of rescuing to begin with?" Hajek said. "Contracts need to be enforced and groups should follow up."

And one more thing: never underestimate the diligence of a true rescuer.

"I am tenacious and not going to stop till I have an answer," she said.

To read about and support the work of Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue click here.