As 6-year-old Ian Unger geared up to begin the new school year as a first grader, the Sand Lake, Michigan, boy was most excited to ride the bus with the other kids. So he was “devastated” when school officials told him he wouldn’t be able to take the school transportation because of his type 1 diabetes.
“[The district doesn’t] feel like it’s safe for him to ride the bus without [another adult] on it,” Ian’s mother, Katrina Christensen, 38, tells PEOPLE, noting that the school would not provide an aide to ride with Ian and monitor his blood sugar. “So, they were gonna pick him up on an empty school bus at 8:45 a.m. — school starts at 8:30 a.m. He just wants to be like everybody else… to put him on an empty bus is unfair.”
So, the family came up with a solution, and planned to get an alert dog for Ian, who was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 4. The service dog would be able to warn Ian when his blood sugar was getting too low, prompting the boy to take action by eating something sweet.
However, an alert dog (along with training costs and other fees) would be at least $25,000, Christensen tells PEOPLE. It would take years for the family to come up with the money — or so they thought.
“It was one of those things where, ‘Are we ever gonna have $25,000 to spend on a dog? Probably not.’ Ian wanted to start raising money, we talked about saving for it. We thought it would be three or four years before we raised the money,” Christensen says.
“He started wanting to do a lemonade stand, anything to raise the money. Then lemonade season was getting to be over, so we told Ian he could have the family’s pumpkin patch this year. He said, ‘I’m gonna sell pumpkins and I’m gonna get my dog!’ “
The family let Ian take over their annual pumpkin sale, and after a stranger wrote about Ian’s efforts in a Facebook post, business started booming.
“He’s quite the little salesman,” Christensen says of her son. “We had hundreds of people in the driveway. He helped every single person pick out the right pumpkin. It was the coolest thing to see.”
As Ian’s story caught the attention of social media users everywhere, Christensen decided to also set up a fundraiser on Facebook to raise money for the dog. In less than a week, the fundraiser had $24,890. Christensen, who also has a 20-month-old daughter Alexia Unger, says Ian raised a little over $1,000 from selling pumpkins, and about $110 through selling the lemonade.
Now, he’s on his way to getting a dog. And Christensen says the little boy was ecstatic when he got the news.
“He was super excited,” she tells PEOPLE. “He was just amazed that he was getting his dog.”
He will get the pooch in about 10 months, as the animal has to go through training.
“Ian is an extremely happy kid and he always has been,” Christensen gushes of Ian. “He always helps people. With diabetes, he’s taken it quite well. I’m very proud of him. He could be mad about it, but he’s not. He’s like, ‘This is how it is. This is what I have to do.’ And he just does it.”