From the art-infused Clarion Alley to the hills of Mount Sutro, Gambit the Frenchie spends his days exploring the colorful streets of sunny San Francisco. Together with his creative humans, they began documenting their inspiring adventures through beautiful photography, capturing gorgeous moments in front of intricate street murals, picturesque garage doors, and stunning storefronts. With an Instagram feed loaded with artistry, I just had to find out more about their incredible story. So, I caught up with Gambit’s humans—Kelly and Will LaStrodl—and got the full scoop on Gambit, plus a behind the scenes look at the brilliant, more-than-just-a-hashtag, #stilllifewithgambit.
Gambit poses in front of a Mondrian-inspired window in San Fran
Gambit at a Glance:
- Born “Bandit” on August 27th, 2010 in Mather, California
- Parents: Harley, a black brindle, and Izzie, pied (Mom must’ve snuck out one night)
- The only fawn of two all black brindle litters
- Favorite snack: Bully stick, cheddar cheese, bacon…anything he can smell. Oh, and honeydew and melon on a hot day
- Favorite place to sleep: Anywhere his humans are laying, but most often at their feet or on the couch
- Favorite resting position: Prayer Stretch. While on his back, he pulls his front paws up and together under his chin and presses—looks like he’s praying!
Kelly and Will inquired about Gambit when their friend brought home Napoleon, Gambit’s runtiest litter mate. When Bandit was born, his breeders decided to keep him after quickly falling in love with him. However, as Bandit hit puberty, father Harley felt that his territory as the alpha was threatened, and would regularly fight with Bandit. They tried everything to make it work, from neutering both dogs to keeping them in separate rooms, but nothing helped.
Finally, about 6 months later, they reached out to Kelly and Will. It was the moment that Bandit walked up to Kelly and put his head in her lap, that the LaStrodl family was born.
“Sounds corny, but that’s when we say we became a family.”
Where did the name “Gambit” come from?
We were unsure of what to call him, and didn’t want to throw him off with a whole new name that had a different tone and cadence. But we knew that Bandit was not the right fit. A friend suggested, Gambit, and Will and I simultaneously said, ‘Hey, that’s my favorite X-Men!” And so the adventure began…
What three words best describe Gambit?
- Ambitious (He never wants to give up on a walk, even when you’re already done.)
- Insatiable (He’ll eat whatever, kiss whomever, and fart wherever.)
Gambit hoping for the Jolly Green Giant
What’s a typical day like for you and Gambit?
Wake up, stretch, go back to bed, wake up part deux, stretch part deux, give Kelly a kiss good morning (she’s the early riser), a short early-hours couch cuddle sesh, breakfast, walk, back to bed, Will wakes up, stretches, kiss, repeat.
The rest of the day is spent doing the following activities: Licking feet, drinking water, sneakily scratching side in whatever room we’re not in, farting, peeing, chewing bone, attacking stuffed things, sleep, sleep, sleep.
Then, greeting at the door to whomever comes home first. Dinner, evening couch cuddle, walks, pee, visit to Omar (our favorite corner shop guy who spoils Gambit and follows him on IG), and back to the house for some sleepy time.
Just making my bed mom. So now, can we walk?
If Gambit could speak, what would be his signature phrase?
“I wipe my own ass.” We say this because every time we leave the house, he gives us these big puppy dog eyes while sitting. That’s him showing us how much of a good boy he is, and hoping we’ll bring him with us. It always reminds us of that scene from Big Daddy where the kid screams that phrase in a plea to get back with Adam Sandler. We joke that you shouldn’t look into his eyes at that time or the gaze will guilt you for a thousand years.
I mean really?!? Really?!? Really, Will & Kelly, you thought you could just leave me behind on vacation and there would be no consequences!?
How did your Still Life Adventures Begin?
They didn’t so much start one day as they grew out of an idea. I had just moved to the city, and being a long time hopeful resident, wanted to thoroughly explore. Will, at the time, worked part of the weekends—so to fill the free time, Gambit and I would take to different and new nabes on foot. Gambit, being as curious as he was, gladly drove the adventures farther and farther. Once, to the top of Mount Sutro/the base of Sutro Tower, from our house and back again. That’s a 6-mile walk round trip with a 700ft+ elevation change! And he wasn’t even close to finished once we returned home. Pretty impressive for a breed known to poop out in 20 minutes.
Do you remember your first Still Life photograph?
Absolutely! One day, I saw a really bright red scooter set against a vibrantly green background and thought, “I want to post that to my Instagram.” And then thought, “You know what would make this picture even cooler? A Frenchie in it.”
Gambit was terrified. He didn’t know what to do and thought I was going to leave him there. He tried running back to me several times before the photo was completed. You can see a look of shear panic in his face in that first still life.
With each, he got better and more confident, and now he can walk between locales sans leash, and sit on command. We even revisited the original first photo spot to retake 6 months later.
Taken 6/9/12 Right: Taken 12/18/12
Out of a hope to chronicle all of our adventures in the city, the #stilllifewithgambit tag was born. And then it grew, and grew, and grew, as we wanted to know more about the walls he was posing in front of, the history behind them, the artists/muralists who painted them, and the uniquely colorful and intricate architecture of SF.
A what? is about to step on my head???
Are they all in San Fran? Or do you usually travel outside city limits?
The majority of the walls are often in San Francisco, but we never shy away from a good spot when the opportunity presents itself outside the city, from Nor to SoCal. Gambit hasn’t been anywhere else with us yet, but there is always next trip.
Out of all the places you’ve visited, which is your favorite?
Very, very difficult. We probably remember the more frustrating ones because he can be a bit stubborn when he doesn’t want to sit. However, a few come to mind as most memorable.
First, is our kinda neighbor #noesocute. A family placed a sign that resembles Lucy’s Psychiatric booth from the Peanuts gang, and they are constantly writing catchy phrases on the top bill. People are encouraged to take pictures with the signage and tag #noesocute for followers to see. We found this place early on in our Saturday walks to a nearby cafe for breakfast, and naturally Gambit needed to lend his pawsome face to the mix.
The dogtor is in. I can get you a good price, but we do not accept CAT insurance plans… Only PETs
We visit regularly and even wrote a couple of the tags including, “Shave and a Haircut. Cost = 2 bits.” Gambit was even featured as part of the last SF Guardian Best of the Bay edition this year for his images taken in front of the #noesocute.
Where’s Lucy? It’s the 15th and I need to file my K-9s and my W-00Fs.
Another fun story happened a few years back when we met a lovely lady named Melissa (@shortformelissa), who at the time, ran monthly photo walks through the Mission as part of a class on instant photography with Photobooth SF (now sadly closed). We asked if Gambit could join. The best moment came when we hit Clarion Alley, a strip of street covered end-to-end, top-to-bottom, in street art.
Kiss it! I’m tired of modeling…my feet hurt, it’s wet out, people keep petting me…which normally I would like but…get me home.
As we were shooting the still lifes, all these people started crowding around, taking Gambit’s photo, like pawparazzi. It was like he was a celebrity!
Posing it up for the pawparazzi.
Do you usually head out with a destination in mind? Or do you just wander and happen to find the perfect photo-op each time?
A little bit of both. We occasionally have an idea of where we want to end up, but we mostly let inspiration take us along the way. And when the sun/shade is right and the colors are popping, we savor the opportunity and squat for a moment, or two.
I debated between posing here or a block away in front of the real thing…I choose here. There is too far, here is so close.
If Gambit could take his #StillLifeAdventures to any place in the world, where would he go?
We think the list would be shorter of where he wouldn’t go. India, would be great. Just think of all the colors. The UK as well, just think of all the history. France, for sure. Gotta represent the rose colored lights. And pretty much anywhere in South/Central America. If it has art, and a good walk, we’re in.
In today’s episode, Gambit travels to the desert kingdom of Agrabah where he saves the princes Jasmine, defeats the evil Jafar and all while keeping sand out of his eyes.
It must be exciting when you see Gambit’s followers participating in the #StillLifeAdventures. How did that start?
Adventures can be had anywhere, so we love to see when new people post their own. And that’s where #stilllifeadventures came from. One day, we were just sitting there and thought, we’re sharing a lot with our friends—but wouldn’t it be fun to see their adventures as well? So we threw up a post and watched them start to come in.
Our first #stilllifeadventures submission comes from my friend @shortformelissa and her pretty pug pup #leicaharrietpancakes, whom I happen to consider a personal lady friend.
How do you get Gambit to sit still as you snap the perfect photo? Do you have any advice for photographing uncooperative Frenchies?
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Some people choose treats, but we’ve never used them as an obedience tool out in public. He gets them at home when he sits, so he knows when he’s out on the street that sitting is a rewarded task when requested. We don’t use them on our walks because that’s all he would focus on. He’s just that way with food, eyes on the prize and nothing else. So, he knows that if he behaves on the walk, he gets the treat when he gets home. The rest is just speaking in a low voice and starting each command with his name. “Gambit, sit. Gambit, stay.” And then when we’re done, “Ok” means he can come back to us. And we always praise him with a pet and cuddle, sometimes kisses and a “that’s a good boy!” for good behavior.
I don’t color splash, I color slam!!!
Usually, French Bulldogs are pretty lazy. Does Gambit ever prefer a nap over an outdoor adventure?
Only at 2am, and even then, if you say the word “walk” or even have the tone of it in your voice, his ears perk up. However, the rain—as with all water activities—is his enemy. That’s a whole different struggle, and it is real. He does this thing when he doesn’t want to go somewhere, stiffening his neck and pulling back to show his disdain. Funny enough, he’s never quite picked up on the fact that we can just pick him up when he does this.
Hey man, can’t you read? No barking. Keep it down.
A Turn for the
Things quickly changed for the LaStrodl family when Gambit suddenly started showing signs of limited mobility. He was still able to walk, until one day, his legs just gave out. Kelly rushed Gambit to the vet, only to hear the worst possible news—surgery, and a good chance he would never walk again.
Gambit is truly an inspiration in the French Bulldog community. Can you tell me about his back surgery and his road to recovery?
“We’ll try not to get too emotional here, but this day can almost simultaneously be marked as the lowest and highest point in our family.“
We were sent to a specialist, where we were quickly given a number of mismatched pieces of information. They gave Gambit less than a 25% chance of regaining mobility in his back legs. And they gave us a $10,000 price tag for the surgery DEPOSIT that would hopefully correct his displaced discs—which actually turned out to be the entire cost of the surgery and hospital stay, not the deposit at all. Luckily, we had money saved up in case such an injury occurred, but had never heard a price tag that high. It’s really sad that the vet industry treats such conditions this way out of a fear of non-payment. They actually flippantly threw euthanasia out, at which point, I yelled at them. I couldn’t believe they’d rather kill him than take a chance at saving him when we had part of the cost in hand.
Enough of the negativity. This is where it starts to get amazing.
Will immediately set up a GoFundMe page to distract himself from how terrified he was. This was after the family already applied for all the Care Credit and everything else you can imagine, but still didn’t have enough to cover the full cost. Kelly’s parents even helped out—their generosity instrumental in helping the surgery move forward. Then there was Dr. Klopp, a mezmerizing and straightforward maven of canine and feline neurosurgery. She was the only person they could get a straight answer out of and truly helped them to make the decision to move forward with the surgery.
And finally, the entire community of god knows how many hundreds of people—both friends and family—from the physical world and the virtual one on Instagram, all of whom quickly responded to our desperate plea for help and donated whatever they could to lend us a hand in paying for the surgery.
“All we can tell you is, we went from retching tears of sadness, needing to decide on the life or potential death of our pup, to rejoicing tears of thankfulness with each new donation that came in. And we read each and every one, and thanked each and every one. He wouldn’t be here in this capacity were it not for all those people caring for our pup. So now, he walks again. He’ll never be 100%, but we’ll take any Gambit over no Gambit. He is what made us a family, and we were fighting for our family that day.”
LaStrodl family photo
Whose idea was it to continue Still Life Adventures with Gambit in a stroller?
We didn’t want to let the adventures die. We were determined to get back out there and treat him like we would every other day—and on Saturdays and Sundays, that meant long, long walks in the sun. Even though his back was busted and healing, he desperately wanted to get out, you could just tell. So a lovely woman, Madeline (@bluebirdtattoo), lent us a stroller she used when her elderly Boston Terrier was ill. So, we took to the streets in the scooter! And let me tell you, it was the most embarrassing two months of our lives. People looked at us like that weird SF couple with some unexplained quirky nature and a compensation for an absent child with a dog in a stroller. We were mocked, called out, and stopped in the street by people who thought we were just ridiculous. They soon backed down when Will started to scream, “He broke his back, you a-hole, what’s your excuse?” However, we decided that just because he was down, didn’t mean he was out when it came to finding new locales to stroll around and snap photos. Actually, we were able to cover more ground with him on wheels, not stopping to pee on every freaking tree, which is his usual MO.
#Stilllifewithgambit Stroller Series. Look how much taller I am. Hehe.
What’s on the itinerary for Gambit in the upcoming weeks? Any place cool?
If the weather is good, we will probably hit Golden Gate Park. Maybe even Crissy Field for a meet-up with some new and old friends. Always a good location—lots of open space, and the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. Who could ask for more??
A special #stilllifewithgambit and friends! Meet @bogeythefrenchie and @mamase_thefrenchie.
Ever plan on venturing across the country to New York? We’d love to meet you!
Absolutely. It’s actually on our list. This year, though, we’re working up for a Euro trip for mom and pops. Then we’ll be looking into a cross-country road trip, perhaps in Will’s CX500 with a sidecar for Gambit. We would be delighted to meet up. Maybe still life it up on the streets of the Big Apple.
Oh and one more thing I have to ask! What’s the story behind the flux capacitor forehead?
Will and I are both big Back to the Future fans, and one day we were looking at his forehead and thought, “That looks like the Flux Capacitor in the back of the Delorean.” The rest is history…or the future :)
Not many understand the inner workings of the #fluxcapacitorforehead but it’s rather simple: the Y shape creates a vortex. Time is sucked in. Huey Lewis… and the News play in the background. 2015… Bam!!! The rest is mystery.
The LaStrodl family has captured so many beautiful Still Lifes with Gambit.
Here are a few more of my favorites:
Hey, hey! Down here. Sometimes I go a bit too big with my selections. Happy Monday!
Stood up again??? Say it ain’t so. That’s fine, cuz it’s beer week in the city and I’m going to extend these anti-Valentines celebrations!
You can find more #StillLifeWithGambit and #StillLifeAdventures on Gambit’s Instagram and Pack pages, and soon in an actual book! That’s right, this little guy is having a book written—or should I say, painted about him in the next couple of months. The artist is @chezrhonel, and you can find his super colorful work often displayed throughout Gambit’s neighborhood.
A HUGE thank you to Kelly and Will for sharing their beautiful story. And a massive thank you to the outstanding Gambit for, well, just being so damn awesome.
Oh—Romeo and I attempted our own #StillLifeAdventures. This is the only time I could catch him sitting still, long enough to snap a photo.
Showing the lawn who's boss.
Want to be a part of Gambit’s adventures? Snap your own still life photograph and tag #StillLifeAdventures for the chance to be featured by the LaStrodl family!